HONOLULU — Hurricane Ana was on course Saturday to miss Hawaii by more than a hundred miles while generating strong winds and heavy rains that prompted flash-flood warnings and lured surfers with high waves.
The center of the powerful Pacific storm was about 135 miles southwest of Honolulu, and it was losing speed as it churned southwest of the islands, the National Weather Service said.
“The intensity of Ana is slowly expected to weaken,” said Chris Brenchley, a weather service meteorologist.
A tropical storm watch remained in effect on Oahu and Kauai but was lifted for Maui, Lanai and the Big Island.
On Oahu, tourists and surfers at popular Waikiki Beach enjoyed ample waves created by the storm in the early afternoon that later gave way to choppy water.
“When the waves are good, you’ve got to get in,” said surfer Emile Meder, 23, who squeezed in a session before heading to work. “Every time we have a hurricane we know it’s going to be good.”
Rain fell early in the day on the island’s North Shore and Koolau Mountains, and slickened the island’s southeast shores. Waves were expected to crest to 10 to 15 feet on the south shores of the islands and remain high through Sunday.
At Sandy Beach State Park, where President Obama enjoys bodysurfing when he visits Hawaii, people ignored the “no swimming” signs.
Residents took the storm warnings seriously on Kauai, which was devastated by Category 4 Hurricane Iniki in 1992 that killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes.
“Those of us that were here during that time remember, and so we are very cautious,” said Mary Daubert, a county spokeswoman. “Until she’s passed us, we all have to remain vigilant.”
Ana was expected to pass Kauai on Saturday night, with the worst conditions to be felt around midnight, Brenchley said.
Though weaker, the hurricane also was expected to pass closer to the island than first predicted, so the potential for damage was unclear, he said.
In a coffee-growing area of the Big Island, the weather forced officials to close Mamalahoa Highway — the only road connecting some communities to the eastern side of the island.
Nearly a foot of rain fell north of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and heavy rains also drenched the Puna district, which was hit hard by Tropical Storm Iselle in August. Still, no one on the Big Island reported storm damage, said Darryl Oliveira, director of Hawaii County civil defense.
“So far it’s looking pretty good for Hawaii Island,” he said.
Lee Terry of Waiohinu, a small town on the Big Island, said the storm didn’t bring much wind, just heavy rain.
“It would come in sheets once in a while but no all-night downpour or anything like that,” Terry said, noting that he didn’t see any debris on a road to South Point — the southernmost spot in the U.S. — as he would expect after bad weather.
He said people weren’t as worried about the current storm as much as they were about Iselle.
“There was no sense of urgency about this one. That’s the way it played out,” he said.
Ana became a Category 1 hurricane Friday when it was about 230 miles south of Hilo, and 15-foot swells pounded the Big Island’s south shores.
The storm had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was churning along at 10 mph, slowing gradually as it turned further west and away from the island chain.
The hurricane was expected to gradually weaken and again become a tropical storm by Sunday afternoon.
The American Red Cross closed its evacuation shelters on the Big Island and opened shelters on Oahu. Island Air suspended its Maui and Lanai flights Saturday afternoon and all flights Sunday, but airports remained open.