HONOLULU – Forecasters say the 2015 hurricane season in the central Pacific region will see more storms than average because of warmer ocean water.
Tom Evans, the acting director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Central Pacific Hurricane Center, said at a news conference Tuesday that the prediction is based largely on current El Nino conditions in the region. El Nino is the warming of the water on the surface of the ocean along the equator, he said, and there are more storms on average during El Nino years.
"El Nino has been established, it's out there," Evans said. "We have the warm water and it's been increasing over the last many months." The El Nino conditions are expected to strengthen during the hurricane season, he added.
The prediction means Hawaii and the surrounding area will likely see between five and eight storms this season. There is a 70 percent chance of having an above normal season.
The central Pacific basin experienced 11 hurricanes each season in 1992 and 1994, the most on record since 1970, and no hurricanes in 1975, 1977 and 1979. However, Evans added that "it doesn't matter if I forecast 11 or if I forecast one, all it takes is that one to cause some major impact and a lot of heartache and headache for people who are directly impacted."
In 2014 there were five hurricanes in the region, which falls within the average of four to five storms per year. The last hurricane to directly hit Hawaii was Iniki in 1992. In 2014, Hurricane Iselle approached the island chain but weakened to a tropical storm just before making landfall. Two other major storms, Julio and Ana, barely missed the state.
Dennis Hwang, a coastal hazard mitigation specialist at the University of Hawaii's Sea Grant program, shared some of the lessons learned from the busy 2014 hurricane season. "We dodged three major bullets last year," he said of hurricanes Iselle, Julio and Ana.
"There were major damages, but it could have been a lot worse," he said.
The storms caused power and water outages on Hawaii's Big Island, which took the brunt of the storms. There was some wind and flooding damage, and the cyclones disrupted air travel.
Hwang encouraged everyone to prepare and outlined some programs in place to help do that.
He said people should stock up on food, water, medication and gasoline when preparing for a major storm. He added that people should keep important documents, a radio and cash on hand when tropical storms approach. "Have a kit, have a plan and practice it," he said. "The whole idea here is to be weather ready."
Hawaii Gov. David Ige was at the news conference and urged people to prepare in advance for the upcoming season.
"We know that no matter how much we prepare we can never be over prepared," he said. "I really do embrace the notion that preparedness is the best thing that we can do at every level."
The region's hurricane season lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30. Most of Hawaii's tropical cyclones happen in August, according to NOAA. The next tropical storm to form in the central Pacific basin will be named Ela.