Lane looms large

Tropical storm conditions expected in county today

Native Intelligence owner Kapono‘ai Molitau fastens a two-by-four board to the front of the Wailuku store with help from sons Kamahiwa, 12, (foreground) and Ka‘ahukai, 15, Wednesday afternoon. He said they planned to board over the store’s large windows fronting Main Street and Maluhia Drive as a precaution with Hurricane Lane approaching. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Hurricane Lane passed south of the Big Island on Wednesday morning and crept closer to the southwest flank of the island chain, threatening residents and visitors as a dangerous, too-close-for-comfort storm.

Lane lost some of its ferocity with its maximum sustained winds dropping from 155 to 145 mph, but it remained a powerful Category 4 hurricane, according to the National Weather Service’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu. Evacuation shelters opened in Maui County at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Forecasters predicted that Big Island residents would begin experiencing tropical storm conditions this morning and hurricane conditions in some areas this afternoon or tonight.

Maui County was forecast to begin seeing tropical storm conditions over portions of the county today, with hurricane conditions tonight and into Friday, center officials warned.

“Lane will pass dangerously close to the main Hawaiian Islands as a hurricane Thursday and Friday and is expected to bring damaging winds,” officials said. “These winds can be accelerated over and downslope from higher terrain.”

Kapono‘ai Molitau (from right) and sons Kamahiwa and Ka‘ahukai carry a sheet of plywood Wednesday.

The hurricane warning was extended late Wednesday afternoon from Maui and Big Island counties to Oahu. Kauai was under a hurricane watch.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday, the storm’s eye was pinpointed about 285 miles south of Kailua-Kona and about 420 miles south-southeast of Honolulu. It had slowed slightly to 8 mph, but it continued tracking west-northwest. Then, at 2 p.m., the hurricane was 275 miles south of the Big Island and about 400 miles south-southeast of Honolulu. It continued moving west-northwest at 8 mph.

At 5:20 p.m., the storm was about 220 miles south of Hawaii island. The storm’s movement shifted to the northwest, still moving at 8 mph. Its maximum sustained winds were clocked at 145 mph.

Forecasters said the hurricane’s slow movement greatly increases the threat of prolonged, heavy rainfall, life-threatening flash flooding and landslides. The flood threat will extend far to the east and northeast of the storm’s center.

Late Wednesday afternoon, forecasters were reporting a moderate wind shear that was expected to become “quite strong beyond 48 hours.”

The hurricane’s path was predicted to continue northwest, with a turn north on Friday and a shift to the west on Saturday, forecasters predicted.

Hurricane-force winds extended up to 40 miles from the storm’s center, and tropical-force winds could be felt up to 140 miles.

On his Hawaii Weather Today website, meteorologist Glenn James said that, in Maui County, damaging winds could begin as early as this afternoon, with dangerous hurricane-force winds possibly starting tonight.

As for rainfall, James said that deep tropical moisture surrounding Lane would drift northward ahead of the hurricane through the weekend.

“Extreme moisture levels surrounding Lane will create an unstable environment, with muggy and humid weather conditions along with frequent showers,” he said. “Heavier rain shower bands will develop with some thunderstorm activity as the extreme moisture interacts with mountainous terrain on each island. These conditions will likely lead to periods of hazardous flash flooding threatening all islands.”

Maui and Hawaii counties remained under hurricane warnings, meaning that hurricane conditions were expected within 36 hours tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous. Officials advised people to complete preparations to protect life and property.

On the coast, surfers and beachgoers can expected large swells generated by Lane. “These swells will produce very large and potentially damaging surf along exposed west,- south- and east-facing shores,” forecasters said.

A high-surf warning remained in effect Wednesday for the south-facing shores of the Big Island, and there was a high-surf advisory for Maui County, Oahu and Kauai.

Surf was forecast to rise to 15 to 25 feet along the Kau and Puna coasts, while the Kona coast was expected to see surf of 8 to 12 feet.

As of midday Wednesday, rain bands generated by Lane were moving ashore in the Puna and Kau districts on the Big Island, forecasters reported. Other islands can expect “excessive rainfall” from Lane into the weekend, raising fears of flash flooding and landslides. Lane could deliver 10 to 15 inches of rain to the islands with some areas getting more than 20 inches.

A flash-flood watch was posted for all islands through Friday night. Flooding may prompt evacuations in low-lying areas, especially those near streams that could overflow. Driving conditions may be dangerous.

James said it remained uncertain early Wednesday how long rainy weather would linger around the state, although at least one forecast model predicted that a “deep moisture plume” would linger over the entire state through the weekend and into the first half of next week.

On Tuesday, Lane had strengthened to a Category 5 storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. It dropped back down to a Category 4 hurricane overnight.

Strong winds could topple power lines, damage roofs and structures, send projectiles airborne, snap and uproot trees and leave roads with debris.

Storm information is available on the weather service website at /pr/hnl/. The Hawaii Tourism Authority has an alert web page at The Maui Emergency Management Agency can be reached at 270-7285.

* Brian Perry can be reached at