LIHUE — As Hurricane Ana continued its forecasted track to the south of the Hawaiian Island chain on Saturday, government officials statewide hiked up precautionary measures, issued storm notifications, and closed beaches and parks.
Ana was expected to pass “dangerously close” to Kauai County Saturday night, with the worst conditions to be felt around midnight, meteorologists said. The eye could pass 95 miles south of Niihau and 115 miles southwest of Kauai.
But Ana was losing speed as it churned southwest of the islands, the National Weather Service said. The hurricane was expected to become a tropical storm by tonight.
“The intensity of Ana is slowly expected to weaken,” said Chris Brenchley, a weather service meteorologist.
Though weaker, the hurricane was expected to pass closer to Kauai than first predicted, so the potential for damage was unclear, he said.
A tropical storm warning was issued for Kauai Saturday night and a tropical storm watch remained in effect on Oahu but was lifted for Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.
Niihau residents made plans to shelter on-island.
Due to the hazardous ocean conditions, the Ocean Safety Bureau closed three county beaches including Kealia, Lydgate and Poipu. The public was advised to avoid coastal areas due the hazardous ocean conditions and the potential for storm surge. Small craft in the warning area should remain in port and be well-secured.
As Hurricane Ana made its approach to Kauai, it brought with it high surf that was expected to peak at 15 to 20 feet overnight, and possible wind gusts from 35 to 60 miles per hour.
“Based on the latest forecast, there is little chance for hurricane conditions at this time,” National Weather Service forecasters wrote in a local statement on Friday afternoon. “The chance for tropical storm conditions is 21 percent at Lihue, and 40 percent at Niihau.”
There weren’t many signs on Kauai on Saturday that people were worried about Hurricane Ana. Many sat in vehicles lined up near Kalapaki Beach to watch wave action, while some walked the beach. For most stores, it was routine business, with some people still venturing out to buy canned food and water, just in case. Many restaurants and retail stores remained open and most events went on as scheduled.
Some guests canceled plans to visit the North Shore and instead, opted to stick closer to their hotel on the South.
“We’re going to stay in tonight and watch TV,” said John Mason, a visitor from California who was walking out of Costco Saturday morning. “We’re not really worried but we decided not to be foolish, either.”
There were some downpours early Saturday, but it was mostly cloudy skies with some strong gusts in the afternoon. The humid but overcast weather was even nice enough for Kukui Grove Center merchants to continue their Spook-tacular Sale plans on the mall’s outdoor exhibition area.
Other community event plans for Sunday, however, had to be tweaked as the Category 1 hurricane approached Kauai.
Melissa Mojo from Kauai Island Singers Showcase said the group’s planned performance at Kilohana Plantation was canceled on Friday due to the impending hurricane and will be rescheduled for Nov. 2.
Residents took the storm warnings seriously on Kauai, which was devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992, a Category 4 storm that killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes.
“Those of us that were here during that time remember, and so we are very cautious,” said Mary Daubert, a county spokeswoman. “Until she’s passed us, we all have to remain vigilant.”
Three shelters on Kauai —Koloa Elementary School, Waimea High School and the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihue — were opened by the Red Cross Saturday night. Residents and visitors were urged to stay home or stay with family or friends and only go to a shelter as a last resort.
American Red Cross shelter manager Padraic Gallagher said the Lihue shelter location was expected to stay open until at least 7 this morning.
“We are a hurricane evacuation shelter, so there’s no cots and no food — it’s just a safe area out of the weather that we’re providing for people,” Gallagher said late Saturday afternoon as he and other volunteers waited for people to arrive at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.
Lee Terry of Waiohinu, a small town on the Big Island, said the storm didn’t bring much wind, just heavy rain.
“It would come in sheets once in a while but no all-night downpour or anything like that,” Terry said, noting that he didn’t see any debris on a road to South Point — the southernmost spot in the U.S. — as he would expect after bad weather. He said people weren’t as worried about the current storm as much as they were about Iselle.
“There was no sense of urgency about this one. That’s the way it played out,” he said.
Ana became a Category 1 hurricane Friday when it was about 230 miles south of Hilo, and 15-foot swells pounded the Big Island’s south shores. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was churning along at 10 mph, slowing gradually as it turned further west and away from the island chain.