Rain began falling on the Big Island Thursday afternoon and the winds began to pick up as Hurricane Iselle zeroed in on Hawaii.
The outer bands of the storm reached the eastern part of the island, bringing wind gusts as fast as 65 mph.
By Thursday, the shelves of many supermarkets were swept bare. Schools and government offices closed. Sandbags were being filled and placed around homes and hotels. Ports were told to close.
In Hawaii County, where there is a hurricane warning, 630 people have gone to shelters, Mayor Billy Kenoi told CNN affiliate KHON.
Gwendolyn Hill, who operates a bicycle tour on the island, said she normally goes to the store at 5:30 a.m. and is usually the only one there.
Not this time.
“People were buying water, rice, toilet paper and Spam,” she said. “I don’t eat Spam but a lot of people here do and it was going fast.”
She said she thought her family was prepared for the storm. They got out the camping gear and had food and water for a week in case the power went out.
“The power goes out fairly often here on the Big Island, so losing power is not really a big deal,” she said.
The shoppers were preparing for a potentially devastating one-two tropical cyclone punch, starting with Hurricane Iselle, with winds of 75 mph, and Hurricane Julio, a Category 3 storm, about 900 miles behind it.
Iselle could bring up to 12 inches of rain, life-threatening storm surges, flash floods and mudslides, forecasters said. They predicted Iselle will weaken somewhat and potentially make landfall late Thursday as a strong tropical storm.
Hurricane Julio, churning behind Iselle, could affect the islands two days later, though forecasters expect it to brush the state only with its southern outer bands as it passes to the north as a weakened tropical storm.
Customers picked through stores for groceries and other supplies Wednesday night and Thursday morning. At many locations, such as KTA in Waimea, bottled water was sold out, leaving the seller scrambling to get more.
“We’ve been on the phone from very early (Wednesday) morning, working with our vendors trying to get more water. It’s been a very difficult situation because everybody is trying to get water,” store manager Colin Miura told CNN affiliate KGMB.
Flash flooding on already saturated islands will be a main threat, along with mudslides from some of the mountainous terrain into populated areas.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said in its public advisory on Iselle early Thursday.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the easternmost populated island, Hawaii, with some of the state’s other islands — Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe — bracing for tropical storm conditions, with sustained winds of under 73 mph.
Even as the storms approached Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday it is more confident that the other side of North America will see a below-average tropical cyclone year.
NOAA said that there is now a 70% chance that the number of named storms in the Atlantic this year will be at or below the 30-year average of 12. NOAA had put the chance at 50% on May 22.
“We are more confident that a below-normal season will occur because atmospheric and oceanic conditions that suppress cyclone formation have developed and will persist through the season,” Gerry Bell, lead seasonal forecaster with the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, said.
Click here to read more.
Ben Brumfield, Jason Hanna and Steve Almasy