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Fading Hurricane Felicia still poses threat


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POSTED: Saturday, August 08, 2009

Hurricane Felicia's winds were expected yesterday to weaken and turn into a tropical storm or a tropical depression as it nears Hawaii.

But state and county Civil Defense officials warned Felicia could still pack a punch, potentially causing heavy rain and flooding.

The National Weather Service said yesterday that by Monday, when the storm is expected to reach the Big Island, there is a 4 percent chance Felicia will continue to be a Category 1 hurricane, a 78 percent chance Felicia will be a tropical storm or a tropical depression, and an 18 percent chance it will dissipate.

Felicia, with sustained winds of nearly 100 miles an hour and about 1,190 miles east of Hilo last night, was moving at about 14 mph in a west-northwest direction and was expected to take a gradual turn to the west, weather service forecaster Ian Morrison said yesterday.

Big Island Civil Defense head Quince Mento said county workers have been checking drainage areas to ensure there are no blockages and are making certain that emergency equipment works in preparation for the storm.

“;All the agencies are ramped up,”; he said.

State Civil Defense spokesman Ray Lovell advised the public to clean storm gutters and have emergency supplies ready to weather a storm.

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“;We don't want people to think we're out of the woods,”; Lovell said. “;This may not be a hurricane, but we still could have winds that are damaging in scattered areas. We could have heavy rains. People could still lose electrical power in some areas.”;

Weather service hydrologist Kevin Kodama said there tends to be more rainfall in the northern half of a hurricane. But it is not clear yet whether the storm will pass south of the islands.

“;At this point there's the potential for heavy rains and flash flooding on all the islands of the state,”; Kodama said.

He said rainfall can vary widely, and predicting where there will be heavy rain depends on a number of factors, including the breadth of the storm.

“;Right now it's too early to tell,”; Kodama said. “;Tropical systems do carry a lot of moisture and rainfall potential, so there's a high potential for flash flooding near the early part of next week.”;

Kodama said people living in places prone to flooding and who have experienced flooding in the past are likely to have flooding when the system reaches Hawaii.

Surf is predicted to begin rising on the eastern shores of the Hawaiian Islands by tomorrow. Advisory-level surf of 8 feet or higher is expected early Monday. The weather service said some northern and southern shores could also receive an enhanced wind swell Monday and Tuesday.

The Air Force Reserve “;Hurricane Hunters,”; based out of Keesler Air Base in Biloxi, Miss., were scheduled to begin flying reconnaissance missions through Felicia today.

The WC-130J aircraft and their crews arrived in Honolulu yesterday. Their first flight was scheduled to leave at 4 a.m. and fly across the eye of Felicia at about 10,000 feet.

Air Force Lt. Col. Christa Hornbaker said with the instruments aboard, the crew will be able to gather information, including wind speed, temperature, humidity and rainfall, to help to determine the intensity and direction of the hurricane.

Part of the mission includes dropping equipment called a “;dropsonde”; to measure weather conditions near the ocean surface of the hurricane.

BOOKLET PROVIDES TIPS TO COPE WITH HAZARDS

Residents interested in retrofitting their home as a disaster shelter can get help from the “;Homeowner's Handbook to Prepare for Natural Hazards.”; The booklet describes various hazards and what people can do to protect their families and property. It was written by Dennis Hwang and Darren Okimoto and published by the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program. A free copy can be obtained by calling 956-7410, but $5 is requested for mailing. It also can be downloaded from www.soest.hawaii.edu/SEAGRANT.