Tropical Storm Flossie was expected to begin affecting Maui County mid-to-late morning today with its gusty winds and heavy rains, and county and state officials began to make preparations for the storm Sunday afternoon.
The county closed all of its offices, and council meetings were canceled today. Kahului Harbor stopped accepting ships at midnight Sunday.
The storm with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph Sunday morning strengthened overnight but weakened slightly as it moved closer to the Hawaiian Islands, said Michael Cantin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, at a news conference on Oahu on Sunday afternoon.
This is a satellite image of Tropical Storm Flossie taken at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Flossie is expected to produce total rainfall of 6 to 10 inches over Maui County, mainly over windward areas, he said. Leeward areas may see 2 to 5 inches, he said.
"Rain will be a big deal across the state," Cantin said.
He said the rate of rainfall is expected to be "high enough to cause flash flooding" and "will knock you off your feet."
The weather service earlier warned that the heavy rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in the mountains.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for all the islands of Maui County. A flash flood watch remains in effect for Maui County through late Tuesday night.
Dangerously large high surf in the range of 12 to 18 feet has been building along east-facing shores and is expected to peak late this morning around 11, Cantin warned. Large surf can cause coastal road closures and storm surge, especially on the eastern side of Maui, which could see minor to moderate coastal inundation in flood-prone areas.
"Not a good time to be out toward the shores," said Cantin, adding that the high surf would arrive a couple of hours before the heavy wind.
As of Sunday evening, Flossie was 260 miles east of Hilo, moving west at 18 mph on a path between Maui and the Big Island. Cantin said Sunday evening that the storm was "dropping a little south" but maintaining its general course.
The eastern part of Maui County could see the effects of Flossie as early as 6 a.m. today, with the storm lingering through 6 p.m., Cantin said.
West Maui, Molokai and Lanai could begin to feel the effects of Flossie at 6 p.m. today and through early Tuesday morning, he said.
The rain could arrive before the heavy winds or "near simultaneously" on Maui, Cantin said. Most of Maui County is in the "highest wind threat area" of the storm.
Flossie is expected to weaken as it nears the Big Island and draws in more dry air, Cantin said. Still, the weather service anticipates Flossie "remaining a tropical storm" through Tuesday, he said, noting that the state has not had a direct threat from a tropical cyclone in a while.
He added that the tracking and timing of the storm's arrival are not an exact science and could change as the storm nears.
Cantin expressed the need to take Flossie seriously, noting that the winds will be strong enough to blow loose objects around and to cause minor damage to roof shingles and lanais.
He advised residents to review preparedness plans and supplies and to be prepared for power outages.
The county is in "emergency preparation mode" due to Flossie, a news release from the county said Sunday.
All county facilities will be closed today due to the storm. This includes the Division of Motor Vehicle and Licensing, parks and other county offices.
The Maui Police Department's Records Section also will be closed today. The public will not be able to obtain police reports or to register firearms, according to police spokesman William Juan.
The County Council will be postponing meetings today, with staff told to stay home, a council aide said.
Automated trash pickup will continue as usual, the county news release said.
The Maui Bus will run on schedule, but Rod Antone, county spokesman, warned riders that the schedules and routes could change due to the storm. There is a possibility that the system could be shut down if damage from the storm were severe enough.
He added that campers in county parks would be told to leave Sunday night. Camp sites will be closed until further notice.
The county asked that residents use water for health and sanitation purposes only as a precaution for failure of water or wastewater systems due to the storm. All other uses of water should be delayed until after the storm passes, the county said.
The county spokesman wanted residents to be aware that civil defense sirens will not be sounding to warn of the arrival of the tropical storm; the sirens can be used only for tsunami and hurricanes.
Maui residents are urged to ready for this storm by preparing emergency kits; by stocking up on food, water and fuel; and by securing home and property against heavy rain and high winds, the county news release said.
"Tropical storms can cause tremendous damage to our community," said Mayor Alan Arakawa. "Residents need to prepare for the high winds, heavy rains and powerful surf that this kind of storm system can bring. Use this time wisely so that we can avoid the mad last-minute rush to gas stations and grocery stores that we often see."
Capt. Shannon Gilreath, the Coast Guard captain of the port, closed the ports of Kahului and Hilo and Kawaihae on the Big Island to all traffic starting midnight Sunday. All cargo operations in these ports was to be secured by 6 a.m. today, a Coast Guard news release Sunday evening said.
Gilreath has set "heavy weather condition II" status for these ports and is urging mariners to review their heavy weather plans and to remain vigilant to forecasts for Flossie.
"While we have not set conditions for the other ports, you should still exercise caution and prudence in conducting your operations," said Gilreath. "Know your capabilities and your constraints and adhere to them so that we can all continue to operate safely."
The Hawaii State Chapter of the American Red Cross has activated its local volunteers to stand by to respond on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, said Cindy Tanaka, communications director for the Hawaii Red Cross.
Volunteers are prepared to open shelters in partnership with their respective counties and has opened shelters on the Big Island. The Red Cross is pre-positioning supplies to areas prone to flooding, she said.
Like the county, the Red Cross encourages residents to get a disaster kit, to make a plan and to be informed. Details about what the kit should contain are available at www.redcross.org/hawaii.
The Hawai'i Tourism Authority asked visitors, as well as residents, to adhere to all warnings and alerts issued by the National Weather Service and the county.
Some airlines have begun announcing flight adjustments, and HTA advised visitors to contact their airlines and hotels to confirm their travel plans.
The public is urged to stay tuned to the latest updates by watching or listening to the news and monitoring the Maui County website, www.mauicounty.gov. Prerecorded advisories and notifications are available 24 hours a day on the Maui County Automated Information System by calling 986-1200.
For storm-related questions or to report damage, call Maui County Civil Defense at 270-7285.
NOAA Weather Broadcasts can be reached by calling (866) 944-5025. NOAA Weather Internet services can be found at www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl.