What to know about the rare, powerful hurricane heading for Hawaii

Hurricane Lane, which is currently bearing down on Hawaii, is “not a well behaved storm,” according to the state’s governor David Ige.

Spinning in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the hurricane has grown into a monstrous Category 5 storm, the most powerful type of hurricane with winds now reaching 160 mph. 

Tuesday evening, the National Hurricane Center called the cyclone “an impressive hurricane,” and forecast that the storm will “move dangerously close to the main Hawaiian Islands as a hurricane Thursday through Saturday.”

Hawaii’s residents should “prepare for a significant impact” from Hurricane Lane, Ige said.

National hurricane scientists emphasize that even if the center of the storm — where winds are strongest — doesn’t pass directly over the islands, the state could still face serious problems from the storm.

A storm this sprawling and powerful can bring threatening downpours and winds “well away from the center of the hurricane, and impacts could be felt on any of the islands,” the National Hurricane Center said.

It’s rare for powerful storms to veer near these well-populated tropical islands, in large part because hurricanes feed on warmer waters, and the oceans around Hawaii are often relatively cool for tropical seas. 

Yet, the National Hurricane Center notes that ocean waters along the storm’s predicted track are currently “warm enough to support a major hurricane.”

Hurricane Lane is only the sixth Category 5 hurricane ever recorded in the central Pacific, Federal Emergency Management Agency atmospheric scientist Michael Lowry tweeted. But, Lane is the closest Category 5 storm to Hawaii that scientists have ever observed, he added. 

Although any year can bring warmer waters to a marine region, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and university scientists published research last year arguing that the tropical Pacific will likely see more “extremely active” hurricane seasons as human-caused global warming boosts ocean temperatures.

As the planet continues an accelerated rate of warming due to human-caused climate change, around 95 percent of accumulated heat gets absorbed by the oceans, increasing the background levels of ocean warming and making warmer-than-normal temperatures more likely. 

“Global warming is really ocean warming,” Josh Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently said in an interview.

A classic hurricane killer is wind shear — winds that hit hurricanes on their sides and can tilt them or blow off their top. 

But as of Tuesday night, government forecasters didn’t expect increasing wind shear around Hawaii until Thursday evening, after some major effects are likely already felt in the state.

As the storm skims the islands, or perhaps even makes landfall, severe and potentially historic flooding is expected. 

According to the National Hurricane Center, there will certainly be battering waves on the coast and potentially “life-threatening flash flooding from heavy rainfall” as water pours down the famously mountainous Hawaiian terrain. 

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