HAWAII—July 24, 2020—Churning 1,000 miles east-southeast of Hilo, Hawaii, Hurricane Douglas rapidly intensified to a Category 3 storm on Thursday as it tracked toward the islands with winds at 120 mph, according to CNN. It is rare for strong hurricanes to reach Hawaii; most dissipate or weaken as they approach the islands and few make direct landfall. Douglas is expected to start weakening by Friday, and forecasters predict it will be a Category 1 storm by the time it impacts Hawaii on Sunday.
The north Pacific high pressure system creates strong wind shear and dry air that typically drives storms away or breaks them down before they reach Hawaii. Although approaching hurricanes are common, direct landfall is rare due to Hawaii’s small size in the middle of the vast Pacific. However, even passing storms can have severe impacts on the islands. CNN reports Hurricane Douglas is expected to cause strong winds, dangerous surf, and heavy rain on Hawaii over the weekend.
Douglas is the first hurricane of the eastern Pacific season, making this the fourth-latest date for the first hurricane of the season. The sluggish eastern Pacific season paired with the highly active Atlantic season indicates forecasters were right when they predicted a La Niña event for this year. La Niña is characterized by cooler water temperatures in the Pacific, which create sinking air and increased wind shear in the Pacific, suppressing the development of strong storms.
Conversely, the global convection wind currents of La Niña result in rising air over the western Atlantic, creating favorable hurricane conditions, and as predicted, the Atlantic is seeing an active season so far. Tropical Storm Hanna, which formed in the Gulf of Mexico late Thursday, made 2020 the first season on record to create eight named storms before August 1, according to Time Magazine. The previous record was held by the 2005 season, the most active on record, which brought us Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. However, although 2020 has seen eight named storms, so far none have strengthened to hurricanes, in contrast with the 2005 season which saw three hurricanes by August 1.