SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- Forecasters in Hawaii are predicting a continuation of El Nino weather conditions through the autumn of 2015 and into the beginning of 2016 -- and they are warning that this could have an impact on the hurricane season here.
"Typically, we see a more active hurricane season during El Nino," said Chris Brenchley, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Honolulu Forecast Office. "This means more hurricanes and more tropical storms."
El Nino weather conditions are characterized by unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that affect tropical rainfall patterns and result in global changes to weather patterns, according to the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.
-- Annual season began June 1.
The hurricane season in the Central Pacific Region, which includes Hawaii, started on June 1 and runs until Nov. 30.
The National Weather Service defines a hurricane as a tropical cyclone with maximum sustained winds of 74 mph or higher. Winds weaker than 74 mph are classified as a tropical storm.
On average, between four and five tropical cyclones are observed in the Central Pacific Region every year, according to the Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) in Honolulu. This has ranged from zero in 1979 to 11 in 1992 and 1994.
One of those 11 hurricanes remains the most damaging in the state's recorded history -- and it was formed during a strong El Nino, according to the CPHC. Hurricane Iniki, a Category 4 hurricane, struck Kauai and Oahu in September 1992, killing six and costing nearly $3 billion in damages.
Last year, the state narrowly avoided being hit by two hurricanes. Hurricane Iselle, a Category 4 hurricane, was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly before making landfall on Hawaii Island in August, and Hurricane Julio, a Category 2 hurricane, passed north of the Hawaiian Islands in August.
Hurricanes ranking Category 3 to Category 5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale are considered to be major hurricanes because they will cause devastating or catastrophic damage to well-built framed structures, snap trees onto roadways and knock out power for sustained periods. However, Category 1 and 2 hurricanes are still considered dangerous and will cause damage.
-- Emergency preparation
While it is impossible to predict with certainty whether or where a hurricane will make landfall, the No. 1 thing the public should do is be prepared, said Joe Barker, installation management emergency officer, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii.
"Be prepared for all hazards," he said, explaining that because of its location, Hawaii is at risk for typhoons and other natural disasters, as well. If families are prepared for one type of disaster, they are likely prepared for others, and this puts them ahead of the game.
"The evacuation plan for a fire or other emergency is the same as for a hurricane," Barker added.
Brenchley said the public should have a kit with emergency supplies, should implement a phone tree or other reliable means of communication so that family members know who to contact, should know where to meet in an emergency, and should familiarize themselves and family members with evacuation zones and shelter locations.
"Do what you can ahead of time, so you're not panicking at the last minute," he said. "We saw a lot of last-minute shopping last year during Hurricane Iselle. You can save yourself long lines, frustration and stress if you have supplies ahead of time."
He pointed out that Hawaii's location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean could present challenges to relief efforts.
"If ports and airports are knocked out of commission, relief may not be quick," Brenchley explained. "The key is to realize this and have the supplies you'll need to survive for longer than a day or two -- say supplies for seven days instead."
Along with having a plan and gathering supplies, Brenchley emphasized the importance of having access to official updates and information, recommending a battery-powered radio as one hurricane preparedness kit staple.
"With so much available on the Internet and via social media, there's a lot of information out there, but not all of that information is official or reliable," he said. "You can get official information from emergency management services, the state Civil Defense, NOAA and the National Weather Service."
-- ONLINE RESOURCES
To learn what to do before, during and after an emergency, visit the attached websites and click on "Emergency Management" at the Garrison's website.
More information can be found in the Hawaiian Electric Company's free disaster preparedness handbook, available by calling (808) 543-7511 or online at www.heco.com
-- HURRICANE KIT CHECKLIST
Emergency kits are essential tools for ensuring your family's well-being during times of crisis.
Suggested items to include in your home emergency kit follow:
•Water, at least one gallon per person, per day, and enough to last each person for at least seven days.
•Nonperishable food items that will last at least seven days and that do not require cooking. They should maintain freshness for several months, such as energy bars and freeze dried/dehydrated foods.
•Formula and diapers for
•Food, water, other supplies and documents for pets.
•Manual can opener.
•A flashlight, battery-powered weather radio, battery-powered cell phone charger and extra
batteries or hand-crank-powered devices.
•First aid kit and prescription medications.
•Sanitation supplies, such as moist towelettes, disinfectant and garbage bags.
•Important documents -- personal, financial and insurance -- protected in watertight packaging. (Store copies in a safe, separate location, such as a safety deposit box or with relatives or a trusted friend.)
•Five-gallon buckets with plastic bags, for use as a portable toilet.
•Cash, in small denominations.
Additional items that can be of use include these:
•Matches, in a waterproof container.
•Any tools needed to turn off utilities.
•Metal or plastic bowls.
•Coats and rain gear.
•Sleeping bags or other bedding.
•A weather-appropriate change of clothes for each
•Books, games, puzzles, toys and other activities for children.
-- Garrison Alerts
Sign-up for U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii's emergency alerts through Nixle to receive text messages and emails:
•Text 96857 to 888777.
•Visit www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil, scroll to the bottom of the page and fill out the three boxes, using 96857 as the zip code.
•Visit www.nixle.com and create an account. Be sure to opt in to receive USAG-HI Emergency Response alerts at 96857.