Hawaii area can expect 2 to 5 storms during hurricane season

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HONOLULU (AP) — The central Pacific basin including Hawaii can expect between two and five tropical depressions, tropical storms or hurricanes this year, federal forecasters said Wednesday.

The annual National Weather Service prediction said there is about an 80% chance of a near or below-average season.

On average, the central Pacific hurricane region sees about four or five storms annually.

Officials said near or below-average sea surface temperatures east of Hawaii where storms form factored into this year's prediction.

A lack of El Nino — warmer than average sea surface temperatures — was also a factor.

"Conditions for the El Nino are not present, and that is denoted by cooler than normal sea surface temperatures near the equator," said Christopher Brenchley, director of the National Weather Service's Central Pacific Hurricane Center. “Those are not present and not expected to be present through the year.”

Destructive winds, storm surges, heavy rain and flooding can affect Hawaii when severe weather moves through the islands.

Officials encouraged people to prepare 14-day emergency kits that include food, water and other supplies.

Last year only two tropical cyclones developed in the Central Pacific. None made direct landfall in Hawaii, but Hurricane Douglas swirled just offshore in July.

“Douglas threatened every county in the state of Hawaii and it looked like one of those exercises that we go through in the worst case scenario,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige said. “We were fortunate that the path changed and it did not have that impact, but we must be prepared for what the new hurricane season brings to us.”

In 2018, the massive and powerful Hurricane Lane made a last-minute turn and narrowly spared Oahu, Hawaii’s most populous island.

The last major hurricane to strike the state was Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which hit Kauai and caused extensive damage across the island.

Hurricane season in Hawaii lasts from June 1 until the end of November. August and September are historically active months for storms in the region.

Increased ocean and atmospheric temperatures caused by global warming could change hurricanes in Hawaii.

“Climate change has been positively linked to an increase in the number of category 4 and 5 storms,” said NOAA Climate Prediction Center's Matthew Rosencrans. “Climate change has also been linked to a 3% increase in the amount of rainfall from any given storm.”

Rosencrans said global warming has not been linked to the total number of hurricanes or tropical storms in a season.

In 2015, the highest number of storms hit in a season since 1970 with 16 named tropical cyclones.

Caleb Jones, The Associated Press