The first hurricane expected to hit Hawaii in 22 years weakened slightly Thursday as its outer edges began to bring rain and wind to the Big Island, while residents and tourists prepared for a possible one-two punch as another major storm lined up behind it in the Pacific.
Hurricane Iselle was expected to bring heavy rains, winds gusting up to 140 kilometres an hour and flooding in some areas, but officials said the Big Island's mountainous region and size should help break apart and weaken the storm as it passed on to Maui and Oahu late Thursday and early Friday.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Julio strengthened early Thursday into a Category 2 storm, but was forecast to pass just north of the islands some time Sunday morning.
Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie said the state is prepared for the back-to-back storms, noting the National Guard is at the ready and state and local governments were closing offices, schools and transit services across Hawaii. Emergency shelters also are being opened across the state.
Earlier Thursday, a 4.5-magnitude earthquake struck the Big Island, but didn't cause major damage. There were no reports of injuries as residents made last-minute trips to grocery stores and boarded up their homes.
Graphic by Murat Yukselir
Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical storms over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a hurricane was in 1992, when Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes in Kauai, meteorologist Eric Lau said.
The twin hurricanes are rare but not unexpected in years with a developing El Nino, a change in ocean temperature that affects weather around the world.
Ahead of this year's hurricane season, weather officials warned that the wide swath of the Pacific Ocean that includes Hawaii could see four to seven tropical cyclones this year.