Hurricane Flossie roared toward Hawaii on Monday with its sustained wind increased to 140 mph, though forecasters said the Category 4 storm would weaken before passing by the islands.
The hurricane was expected to pass about 70 miles south of the island of Hawaii late Tuesday or early Wednesday, but by then cooler water should weaken it to a Category 1 hurricane, with sustained wind of at least 74 mph.
Meteorologists cautioned that even a slight change of course in the unpredictable storm could take it closer to land.
At 11 a.m. EDT, Flossie was about 495 miles southeast of Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, with maximum sustained wind near 140 mph, up from 135 mph earlier in the day, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said. It was moving west-northwest at about 15 mph.
Emergency workers had mobilized Sunday afternoon to prepare for the potentially devastating hurricane, Hawaii Island Mayor Harry Kim said.
“You always prepare for the worst case scenario and hope for the best,” Kim said.
Even though the eye of the storm may miss the Hawaiian islands, Flossie could still bring strong wind and heavy rain to the islands, forecasters said.
The southeastern shore of the Big Island of Hawaii could see waves of 8 to 12 feet, forecasters said, with the surf rising during the day Monday and peaking Tuesday. The island’s South Point is the southernmost area of the United States.
The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992, when Iniki ravaged Kauai, killing six people and causing $2.5 billion in damage.
Hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. In May, forecasters said the Hawaiian islands and the rest of the central Pacific faced a slightly below-average hurricane season, with just two or three tropical cyclones expected because of lower sea surface temperatures.
The islands get an average of 4.5 tropical cyclones a year and one hurricane about every 15 years. Last year, the central Pacific had five tropical cyclones after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted two to three.
On July 21, a tropical depression moved past the Big Island, bringing a few inches of rain to the parched island but no major problems. Cosme, the year’s first Pacific tropical cyclone, reached hurricane status for a day before it weakened.
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