Researchers raise
hurricane fear

Hawaii residents can expect a greater likelihood of tropical storms or hurricanes this fall, followed by a drier than normal winter, as the Pacific Basin goes into an El Niņo weather cycle, forecasters say.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced last week that weak El Niņo conditions have developed in the tropical Pacific and are expected to last through early 2005.

El Niņo is associated with increases in sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean and can significantly affect weather around the world, usually resulting in less rainfall in Indonesia and Australia and more rainfall on the west coast of South America. El Niņo episodes occur about every four to five years and can last up to 12 to 18 months.

However, because this year's El Niņo is not a large temperature increase and doesn't include the entire equatorial Pacific, it is considered a weak system.

"At this time it is not clear what, if any, impacts this event will have on ocean temperatures in the classical El Niņo region along the west coast of South America and on temperature and precipitation in the United States," said Jim Laver, director of the NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

But because Hawaii is directly north of the Pacific equatorial region, the effects on the state are more immediate.

"We can expect a slightly greater risk of hurricane activity close to us, a greater instance of tropical weather in general and different winter storm patterns -- with less-than-normal rainfall," said Roger Lukas, a University of Hawaii oceanography professor.

All islands could receive winter rainfall that's less than half of local averages, said Jim Weyman, meteorologist- in-charge at the National Weather Service forecasting center on Oahu. North-facing shores of all islands also can expect more heavy winter surf, he said.

The last El Niņo year was 2002-2003, which was considered moderate. The last strong El Niņo was in 1997-1998, said Weyman. The last two hurricanes that made landfall in Hawaii -- Iniki in 1992 and Iwa in 1982 -- occurred in El Niņo years.

"I don't want to frighten people, but there is an enhanced potential" for hurricanes in an El Niņo year, as well as the likelihood of more stormy, tropical weather, Lukas said.

In 1992, when Iniki hit Kauai and Oahu, Guam was hit by five typhoons that fall, Lukas noted. "This year, Guam has already been hit by typhoons at least twice and Japan has been hit four times."

El Niņo year or not, a hurricane hitting Hawaii "could happen any year," Lukas said, "And everybody should be prepared for it to happen, because sooner or later it will."

Central Pacific Hurricane Center
www.prh.noaa.gov/hnl/cphc/ Tropical Storm Tracker


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