The Hurricanes Headed for Hawaii and Florida

The National Weather Service has upgraded a tropical storm headed for Florida to hurricane status.

A tropical storm and a hurricane approach Hawaii as seen from satellite images.
Tropical storm Madeline and hurricane Lester.  (NASA)

NEWS BRIEF The first of two hurricanes headed toward Hawaii lost strength and was downgraded to a tropical storm. Meanwhile, in Florida, a tropical storm gained in strength and is now designated as a hurricane.

In Hawaii, Hurricane Madeline slowed to 70 miles per hour as it approached within 75 miles southeast of Big Island. Right behind it came Hurricane Lester, threatening the Pacific island chain with back-to-back storms. Lester is expected to hug the north side of the island, and even if it doesn’t directly hit land, it will bring lots of rain. On Wednesday, rains fell at a rate of one to two inches per hour, and the National Weather Service has extended a flash-flood advisory.

Hurricanes around Hawaii are rare. The ocean waters surrounding the island chain usually aren’t warm enough to give air the uplift it needs to form a hurricane. Even more unusual is a hurricane that strikes the island. Since 1949, just three hurricanes have made landfall, and only 13 hurricanes have come within 200 nautical miles of Hawaii. Add to that the odd occurrence of two hurricanes forming so closely together (even though one has been downgraded) and it has made for an exceptional event.

As for Florida, the governor has declared a state of emergency as Hurricane Hermine approaches. Its wind speed reached 75 miles per hour Thursday afternoon. Here’s a look at its projected path:

Unlike Hawaii, Florida sees plenty of hurricanes in the surrounding Gulf Coast waters. But the state hasn’t had a landfall for 11 years. The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, in 2005, with a sustained wind speed of 175 miles per hour.  As of  Thursday afternoon, Hermine was 115 miles southwest of Apalachicola, which is near where Wilma hit.

Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency on Wednesday, pre-empting the hurricane’s landfall. Already, storms have dumped 20 inches of rain in some parts of the state. Schools closed down Thursday, and some people woke up to flooded homes.