Hawaii hasn't seen a tropical storm for 22 years, but beginning today, the islands are facing the gale forces of not one but two storms, with the second at hurricane status. The event is historic, not just because the Big Island hasn't been hit by a storm—let alone a hurricane—from the east since 1958, but also because the the tropical cyclones are expected to bring prime surfing conditions in addition to destruction.
Hurricane Iselle (downgraded to a tropical storm at 11 p.m. Thursday) and its 60 mph winds made landfall this morning with enough strength to cut off electricity to upwards of 20,000 customers—including a geothermal plant that released poisonous gases into the air after the power failure. The National Weather Service issued a statewide flash-flood watch, schools and government offices closed for the day, and 1,200 people were evacuated to Red Cross shelters at elevation. Even with an early morning earthquake, no deaths or injuries have been reported.
"We still have not seen the full force or full front of the storm on the Big Island even though it's been downgraded to a tropical storm," Andrew Jackson, a spokesman for Hawaii's Department of Defense, told the Wall Street Journal on Friday. Tropical storms are rare in the islands because hurricanes gain steam in warm water, and the water surrounding the islands is cool.
While 43,000 Hilo residents took shelter in their homes, surfers waved the storm in with a beachside greeting. Scott Murray, owner of Hilo Surfboard Co., told CNN that "residents were more optimistic for good surf than concerned about damage and flooding." Waves are expected to reach up to 12 feet on the north shore today and degrade through Tuesday.