Close call

LIHUE — With Hurricane Ana well past Kauai on Monday, officials agreed on one thing: The main Hawaiian islands, and especially Kauai, were lucky.

“I’m just talking on my way home from a long day and a sleepless weekend from the hurricane watch,” said Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro, who participated in regular Kauai Civil Defense updates with other county, state and federal officials throughout the weekend. “Anyway, we dodged a bullet.”

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, Hurricane Ana, at its closest point, was about 80 miles away from Kauai.

“If it were a little closer to Kauai, it would have had tropical storm force winds, but if it had moved ashore on Kauai, then you would have had hurricane force winds of about 80 miles an hour,” said National Weather Service meteorologist John Bravender.

It was just two months ago that hurricanes Iselle and Julio came calling, with Iselle causing damage on the Big Island before dissipating, while Julio passed by without any trouble.

And while three hurricanes so close together seems like a lot, there could be more to come. Hawaii residents are told to remain prepared because hurricane season isn’t over until the end of November. This is an El Niño summer, or a warm oceanic phase near South America, where many of these Pacific Ocean storm systems develop.

Last year, Hawaii’s main threat came from Tropical Storm Flossie before it moved north and weakened.

“We tend to have a longer hurricane season when ocean temperatures are higher than normal,” Bravender said.

Bravender said the federal bureau’s regional office in Honolulu did not receive any preliminary reports of damages as of Monday, but said wind speeds on Kauai reached up to 30 miles an hour.

“The winds were just below tropical storm force, so we didn’t quite get there, which is actually what we were expecting with this track,” Bravender said. “When we put the tropical storm watch out to begin with on Friday, it was mainly out of caution just in case the track turned closer to the island. At the time, we weren’t necessarily expecting tropical storm force winds to hit, but there was enough uncertainty in the track that it could swing to the right closer to the islands.”

The highest amount of rainfall was observed on Mount Waialeale, where about 6 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period on Sunday. Rain gauges near Kokee State Park, meanwhile, recorded almost 5 inches of rainfall, while those near Wailua Ditch reported almost 4 inches.

The Lihue Airport, meanwhile, received only half an inch of rain within that same 24-hour period.

Though the weather did end up changing some weekend plans, some residents and visitors were able to plan their day around it.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa spokeswoman Diann Hartman said the hotel had a number of cancellations, but said they weren’t as much as when Iselle and Julio approached the state earlier this year.

“I think those storms garnered more national media attention due to the lineup of multiple storms which heightened travelers’ concerns,” Hartman wrote in an e-mail.

Kauai escaped relatively unscathed. There were some beach and road closures, a few down trees and reports of minor damages, but the island didn’t sustain a serious hit. Few people turned up at shelters opened over the weekend. Still, Ana came closer than expected.

“We are very fortunate that Hurricane Ana passed us with minimal damage, but while we always hope for the best, we must be prepared for the worst,” Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. said.

All county parks and beaches that were closed over the weekend reopened on Monday. Department of Land and Natural Resources officials, meanwhile, said they will reopen all state parks, small boat harbors and managed forest areas on Kauai after assessments are complete.

Although no future storms are on the horizon, Bravender said, unusually warm water conditions this summer may become a breeding ground for more of them.

“Ocean temperatures are several degrees above normal, and hurricanes get their energy from the ocean water, so having warmer ocean temperatures could lead to more systems later in the season,” Bravender said. “So far, Ana was our fifth tropical cyclone in the Central Pacific basin, which is about normal so far — a normal year has four to five. The outlook for this year, since we are warmer than normal, called for four to seven, so we’re still within that window.”

The hurricane season started on June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.


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