Two major cyclones are bearing down on the US island archipelego.
US President Barack Obama arrived in Hawaii on Wednesday to speak at the 2016 Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders. His visit comes as Hurricane-turned-Tropical-Storm Madeline passes by the Hawaiian Islands and Hurricane Lester threatens to hit over the weekend.
Madeline was downgraded to a tropical storm and made a turn to the southwest, avoiding a direct hit on the Big Island. It still deposited more than 100mm of rain in Hilo, on the Big Island’s north coast.
Madeline came in from the east and Hurricane Lester is doing the same. When hurricanes approach Hawaii from the east, they usually lose strength before reaching the islands. Madeline did this and Lester is expected to do the same.
Hurricane Lester will lose strength, but its forecast path is north of the island chain, bringing it dangerously close to the island of Honolulu. The storm remains at hurricane strength throughout its forecast path.
— Ryan Ozawa (@hawaii) August 31, 2016
This time last year, the Central Pacific was host to three hurricanes at once. The unprecedented sight took place during a major El Nino event. The legacy of El Nino has meant that the sea temperature around Hawaii is still about a degree Celsius above normal.
Ocean waters surrounding the islands, while warm, are generally not warm enough to support frequent hurricanes, and the atmospheric conditions usually quash such cyclones before they develop.
On this date last yr, three Cat 4 hurricanes existed at same time in NE Pac – only time on record this has occurred pic.twitter.com/ux3zSxqKhG
— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) August 29, 2016
Since 1949, just five storms of tropical storm strength or greater have made landfall on any Hawaiian island, including two in the past three years.
Tropical Storm Iselle made landfall on the Big Island in 2014 and Tropical Storm Darby did so in July, but no hurricane has hit the islands since 1949. The previous hurricane to make landfall in the Hawaiian Islands was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which hit Kauai.
Even as a tropical storm, Iselle felled hundreds of albizia trees on the Big Island and caused an estimated $79m in damage.
Having seen the effect of El Nino – an example of weather in a changed climate – the Hawaiian Islands may need to think more about violent storms in the future. Some evidence suggests that climate change could result in more frequent hurricanes in the Central Pacific.