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Category 4 Hurricane Flossie, on path toward Hawaii, expected to weaken soon
HONOLULU -- Hurricane Flossie packed 135 mph wind as it spun closer to Hawaii on Sunday, but forecasters predicted the Category 4 storm would weaken before passing by the islands later this week.
The hurricane was expected to pass about 70 miles south of the island of Hawaii late Tuesday or early Wednesday, but by then cooler water should weaken it to a Category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm.
But even a slight change of course in the unpredictable storm could bring it closer to land.
"Everyone in the Hawaiian islands is urged to continue monitoring the progress of Hurricane Flossie," the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said in a statement. "A northward shift in the track could potentially bring hurricane conditions to the Big Island."
At 4 p.m., Flossie was 735 miles east-southeast of Hilo, and had maximum sustained wind near 135 mph with gusts reaching 161. It was traveling west at about 14 mph.
Emergency workers mobilized Sunday afternoon to prepare for the potentially devastating hurricane, Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said.
"You always prepare for the worst case scenario and hope for the best," Kim said.
Two Air Force WC-130 hurricane tracker aircraft were dispatched from Mississippi and expected to fly into the storm to gather measurements later in the day, said John Bravender, a forecaster at the center.
Even though the eye of the storm may miss the Hawaiian islands, Flossie could still bring strong wind and heavy rain to the islands, forecasters said.
The southeastern shore of the Big Island of Hawaii could see waves of 8 to 12 feet, forecasters said, with the surf rising during the day today and peaking Tuesday. The island's South Point is the southernmost area of the United States.
The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992, when Iniki ravaged Kauai, killing six people and causing $2.5 billion in damage.
In May, forecasters said the Hawaiian islands and the rest of the central Pacific faced a slightly below-average hurricane season, with just two or three tropical cyclones expected because of lower sea surface temperatures.
The islands get an average of 4.5 tropical cyclones a year and one hurricane about every 15 years. Last year, the central Pacific had five tropical cyclones after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted two to three.