Hawaii gets the all clear as tropical storm warnings have been canceled

Image provided by: MGN Online

Image provided by: MGN Online

(CNN) — Whew, that was close.

Officials in Hawaii breathed a sigh of relief as one tropical system passed over the Big Island, causing limited damage, and a second system set its sights away from the island chain.

“We dodged a bullet,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Just two days ago, the situation looked bleak. Two hurricanes were on the way — Iselle and Julio.

Hawaii hadn’t taken a direct hit from a hurricane since the 1990s. This had people’s attention.

But Hurricane Iselle weakened to a tropical storm in the hours before Friday’s landfall, and while Hurricane Julio is still a powerful Category 3 storm with 100 mph winds, it will weaken and push north of Hawaii over the weekend, forecasters said.

“Julio is expected to pass about 200 miles northeast of the Big Island on Sunday,” the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said.

By Friday night, all but one storm-related watch or warning had been canceled.

A flash flood watch remained in place for the state through 6 a.m. (noon ET) Saturday.

The heavy rains were the biggest threat from Iselle. Rainfall amounts of 4 to 8 inches were common, with some areas receiving more than a foot.

Soggy election

The state’s primary election was expected to take place Saturday despite the lingering effects of the storm.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who has taken advantage of the storm to show leadership and appear on television, is in a tough race against State Sen. David Ige in the Democratic primary. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz faces a challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Schatz was appointed to the seat after the death of longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye.

A rare event

Tropical cyclones are rare visitors on Hawaii. Since the 1950s, only two hurricane eyes have hit the state — and both approached from the south, where water temperature generally is warm enough to sustain the storms’ strength.

That’s not to say Hawaii hasn’t had close calls. The central Pacific sees an average of about five tropical cyclones a year, and some have brushed the state in recent decades.

The cyclones generally approach from the east after forming in the eastern Pacific. But close to Hawaii, dry air, cooler water and wind shear combine to weaken approaching cyclones, dissipating them before they can become a significant threat, CNN meteorologist Indra Petersons said.

Hawaii’s most damaging hurricane in recent decades — Hurricane Iniki of 1992 — came during an El Nino year, or a year of above-average sea surface temperatures. This year hasn’t met the criteria for El Nino, but it could in the weeks ahead, Petersons said.

Iniki killed at least four people and caused about $2 billion in damage when it hit the western Hawaiian island of Kauai, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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