A tropical storm in the Pacific strengthened on Wednesday, officially becoming the first hurricane of the Eastern Pacific season. The storm, Douglas, could strike the Hawaiian Islands this weekend.
After several days of maintaining tropical storm strength over the open Pacific Ocean, Douglas has intensified to the point the National Hurricane Center is now designating the cyclone as a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the center of Douglas was over a thousand miles from land, about halfway between Mexico and the Hawaiian Islands as it travels west at around 15 mph.
An eye feature has recently become apparent on visible satellite, a sign that Douglas may be intensifying further.
Warm Pacific waters and low wind shear should allow Douglas to continue to strengthen. It’s possible the storm may attain major hurricane strength in the next two days.
As the storm approaches the Islands however, cooler water and higher shear should help to induce gradual weakening.
The current forecast from the National Hurricane Center has Douglas approaching the Big Island of Hawaii on Sunday as a strong tropical storm.
At the minimum, Hawaiians can likely expect to see increased surf this weekend with the potential for strong winds and torrential rain, particularly on Sunday.
Historical Hawaiian Hurricanes
With few exceptions, high surf and heavy rainfall are generally the worst impacts from tropical cyclones to Hawaii. Despite being surrounded by warm, tropical waters, landfalling hurricanes on the Hawaiian Islands are actually quite uncommon.
The most memorable, Iniki in 1994, made a direct strike to the island of Kaua’i as a category four storm. Packing winds of 145 mph, the storm caused billions of dollars in damages to the islands and leaves a lasting memory for residents.
Although the islands manage to dodge most hurricanes, tropical storms and remnant circulations impact Hawaii much more frequently.
Most recently, Hurricane Olivia rapidly weakened as it approached the islands in 2018. As a minimal tropical storm, Olivia actually became the first tropical cyclone on record to make landfall on the island of Maui.