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Fox News Weather Center

Tropical Depression to Generate Downpours, Rip Currents for Hawaii This Weekend

A tropical depression currently southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, is forecast to pass northeast of the islands Friday into Saturday but will bring heavy surf and perhaps locally heavy rainfall.

People traveling to or living in the Hawaiian Islands will want to monitor the progress of the tropical depression, which could soon intensify into a tropical storm or hurricane.

According to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, the system is likely to strengthen to a tropical storm and gather the name Ela later on Wednesday.

"The time for strengthening is brief, as the system will encounter harsh winds aloft near the islands this weekend," Kottlowski said.

As a result, the system is not likely to become a powerful hurricane and may not become a hurricane at all, despite warmer-than-average waters in the region. However, people should not let their guard down.

At present course and speed, the system could begin to produce squalls and building swells on the Big Island during Thursday. The squalls and seas could catch boaters off guard. Waves and rip currents waves will increase in strength and number, especially along the east-facing beaches during the latter part of the week.

"How extensive the squalls become and how big the seas get will depend on the size, strength and path of the system," Kottlowski said.

On Wednesday, the overall diameter of the system area of showers and thunderstorms extended across several hundred miles.

The system is forecast to stay 200-300 miles away or more from the Big Island of Hawaii but could turn more to the west and pass 100-200 miles away from Kaua'i.

A compact tropical storm or hurricane passing a couple of hundred miles to the northeast may have little or no impact, but a large system could spread showers and storms throughout the islands with more significant impact.

"We will have to see how big it remains over the next couple of days," Kottlowski said.

Kottlowski is mostly concerned about heavy rain and possible flash flooding and debris flows affecting the northwestern islands of Hawaii, such as Kaua'i and O'ahu, which extend farther north.

The disturbance, which AccuWeather meteorologists have been tracking since last week, became Tropical Depression Four-E, during Tuesday evening, July 8. The system was located around 1,000 miles southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, as of Wednesday morning, local time.

While there are several areas in the Eastern and Central Pacific that bear watching this week, this newly formed tropical depression poses the greatest concern for the chain of Hawaiian Islands through the weekend.

"This could be another busy year again for Hawaii, in terms of tropical systems passing nearby, as the effect of El Niño continues and perhaps reaches a peak during hurricane season," Kottlowski said.

El Niño, with its warmer-than-average water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, began to ramp up during the latter half of 2014.

Hawaii saw two developed tropical systems pass close by during 2014. One was Iselle, which made landfall on the Big Island of Hawaii as a tropical storm on Aug. 7. Another well-developed system, named Ana, impacted the islands during the middle of October.

Once a powerful Category 4 hurricane, Iselle was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall on the Big Island on record. Iselle caused downed trees, power outages, large waves and property damage along with flooding rain and travel disruptions.

Ana passed just to the south and west of the islands as a hurricane and produced locally heavy rain.

Other systems such as Wali, Genevieve and Julio either passed well away from the islands or had minimal effect on Hawaii during 2014.

Hurricanes in the Central Pacific are uncommon with three or four named, but relatively weak systems per year over the entire basin.