The peak of hurricane season is here. August and September are historically the busiest months for tropical development in the Northern Hemisphere. While the western Atlantic is quiet right now, the Pacific features two storms that should be taken seriously by those in Hawaii, as well as U.S. importers waiting on containerized cargo coming from eastern Asia.
Hurricane Erick, which began as a tropical wave on July 27, became a Category 1 hurricane two days later. It rapidly intensified into a Category 4 storm on July 30, with sustained winds of 130 mph. After losing some steam today, July 31, Erick was a Category 3 storm as of 5:00 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time (HST), or 11:00 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), with sustained winds of 120 mph. It’s centered about 615 miles southeast of Hilo, on the Island of Hawaii, commonly referred to as “the Big Island.”
The storm is forecast to track just south of the Island of Hawaii from Thursday, August 1 through Friday, August 2. Because of increasing wind shear, Erick should slowly weaken back to a Category 1 hurricane or a tropical storm during this time. However, the storm will cause some trouble in paradise for a while, and could delay some ocean freighters that will have to change course and go around the storm. Hurricane-force winds currently extend 30 miles from Erick’s eye, with tropical storm-force winds (39 to 73 mph) up to 125 miles away.
Swells generated by Erick will arrive in the Hawaiian Islands over the next couple of days, producing potentially dangerous surf conditions, mainly along the Island of Hawaii’s east-facing shores. Gusty winds and heavy rains are likely, and the National Weather Service (NWS) in Honolulu has issued a Flash Flood Watch for the entire Island of Hawaii, effective Thursday afternoon through Saturday morning. Flood-prone areas, such as low spots in roads, may become impassable due to fast-flowing water or deep ponding. The main flooding impacts are expected to occur from Hilo to Naalehu, with lower flooding potential elsewhere on the island.
Minor to moderate disruptions are possible at Par Hawaii Refining, LLC, which operates the only petroleum refinery in Hawaii. It’s located in Kapolei on the southern coast of Oahu. Par Hawaii is the leading supplier of transportation fuels in the Aloha State, serving the state’s population of approximately 1.4 million residents as well as eight million annual visitors. Par Hawaii plays a critical role in meeting the state’s demand for jet and marine fuel. According to the company’s website, the refinery has a rated capacity of 94,000 barrels per day, 27 miles of pipeline to deliver products to military installations and the Honolulu International Airport, as well as a single-point mooring (SPM) terminal anchored off Barbers Point.
About 1,250 miles behind Erick, to the east, is Flossie. Once a Category 1 Hurricane, Flossie has weakened to a tropical storm with winds of 70 mph as of 11:00 a.m. today, HST. The storm has been fighting wind shear, and for now the wind shear is winning. The strong winds aloft are blowing thunderstorms away from the center of circulation, tilting the storm’s core. However, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) tweeted earlier today that Flossie could become a hurricane again later this week. The latest forecast track in FreightWaves SONAR doesn’t rule out a direct hit on the Island of Hawaii, but this outlook is certainly not set in stone. Stay tuned for updates on the FreighWaves social media accounts.
The central Pacific – defined as the region between 140 and 180 degrees west longitude – includes Hawaii, and is less prone to land-falling hurricanes compared to the Gulf and East coasts of the continental United States. Hurricanes can develop in this region, or they can move into it from the Eastern Pacific.
According to Dr. Rick Knabb, former director of the NHC, an average of four to five tropical cyclones occur annually in the Central Pacific, compared to 11 for the Atlantic basin. About two-thirds of those systems drift into the region from the Eastern Pacific. From 1950 through 2017, only 14 hurricanes passed within 200 nautical miles (230 miles) of the Island of Hawaii, Maui, Honolulu or Kauai, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) historical hurricane database.