Texas authorities issued a hurricane warning Friday for residents along the coast after record-breaking Tropical Storm Hanna gained strength as it hurtled through the Gulf of Mexico.
Hanna is now expected to make landfall in Texas as a hurricane, bringing a life-threatening swell on Saturday afternoon at the same time as Hurricane Douglas is forecast to descend on Hawaii.
The storms come as both states are grappling with a rise in coronavirus cases, with officials branding the oncoming dangerous weather systems as ‘a potential disaster inside of a current disaster’.
Forecasters issued a hurricane warning for parts of the Texas coast Friday afternoon as Tropical Storm Hanna threatened to bring heavy rain, rough waters and strong winds.
Hanna was centered about 195 miles east of Corpus Christi, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 4 p.m. CDT advisory. The storm had maximum sustained winds around 50 mph and was moving west at 10 mph.
Hanna was forecast to make landfall Saturday afternoon or early evening and a hurricane warning is in effect for Baffin Bay to Mesquite Bay, a span that includes Corpus Christi. A storm surge warning is also in effect for Baffin Bay to Sargent.
A tropical storm warning is in effect from the mouth of the Rio Grande River to Baffin Bay and from Mesquite Bay to San Luis Pass.
Forecasters said Hanna could bring 5 to 10 inches of rain and coastal swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions.
Hanna broke the record as the earliest eighth Atlantic named storm, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was Harvey on August 3, 2005, Klotzbach tweeted.
Yet as well as hazardous weather conditions, Hanna brings a wave of other problems to the Lone Star state as it considers how it will approach hurricane shelters in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
‘Remember… we’re in a potential disaster inside of a current disaster,’ Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales said during a news conference Friday, according to KXAN.
The problem social distancing while trying to stay safe from the storm has become the main issue in the state.
‘Our local entities are looking at where they can shelter folks, but it is very difficult, because you are talking about trying to maintain social distance in a situation that is not intended for social distancing,’ Brittany Eck with the Texas General Land Office explained.
She urged Texans to ask friends and family if there is extra space to shelter before heading for a storm shelter and warned that masks, gloves and hand sanitizer should also be included in a to-go bag this year.
‘We’re thinking about masks and gloves. We’re thinking about taking hand sanitizer with you and putting additional ones in there, but also thinking about it having to go to congregate sheltering or having to go somewhere else,’ she added, warning that it is still early in the season and more storms should be expected.
Meanwhile in Hawaii, the first official hurricane to threaten the U.S. since the start of the coronavirus pandemic is also presenting new challenges to officials long accustomed to tropical storms.
Midday Friday, Hurricane Douglas was 785 miles southeast of Hilo and packing maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, making it a Category 3 hurricane.
It’s expected to weaken as it passes over cooler water. But meteorologists warn strong winds, heavy rainfall and dangerous surf could afflict the entire state beginning Saturday night.
Douglas is expected to be either a Category 1 hurricane or a strong tropical storm when it nears the eastern end of the state.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane watch for both the Big Island and Maui County, meaning hurricane conditions are possible in those areas within the next 36 to 48 hours.
The storm approaches as Hawaii grapples with increasing COVID-19 numbers. On Friday, the state reported 60 newly confirmed cases, its highest single-day increase since the pandemic began.
‘I never thought in 30 years of doing this I’d be answering medical questions,’ said John Cummings, the public information office for Honolulu Emergency Management, underscoring the odd position authorities have found themselves in.
Unlike other hurricane-prone states like Florida, where residents pile into cars to evacuate when storms approach, it’s impractical to leave Hawaii to get away from a storm.
Shelter space is also limited.
So, as is typical, local authorities are urging most people to shelter at home if they can. Those living in homes built according to code after 1995 should be ‘pretty good to go,’ Cummings said.
He recommended staying with friends and family if home isn’t safe. Seek refuge in an interior room, he said. Going to a city-run shelter should be a last resort, he added.
At shelters, evacuees will have their temperatures checked for signs they may be infected with the coronavirus.
People who have been quarantining themselves, either because they recently traveled to Hawaii from out of state or because they have been exposed to someone with the virus, may go to a shelter if their housing situation is unsafe.
Those with high temperatures or a travel history will either be isolated at that shelter or taken to a different site, Cummings said.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that in ‘non-pandemic world’ the city prepares 10 square feet per person at shelters.
But in order to have 6 feet of physical distancing between people, it must allow 60 square feet per person or family.
‘We need more shelter space. And with more shelter space, we need more people to staff those shelters. And we’re working on that right now,’ Caldwell said. The city plans to announce a list of shelters later on Friday.
Hawaii leaders have been talking to the Federal Emergency Management Agency about potentially housing evacuees in hotels, but nothing concrete has been decided yet. Caldwell said such an arrangement may not come together in time for Douglas´ arrival but might be in place for the next storm.
Many of Hawaii’s hotels have empty rooms or are completely closed because the pandemic has shut off most travel to the islands.
State officials in Hawaii also have been urging residents for months to incorporate hand sanitizer and face masks into their usual emergency kits containing two weeks worth of food, water, batteries and other supplies.
Caldwell urged people to get groceries for those who can’t afford to go shopping for 14 days of food at once when so many residents are out of work because of the pandemic.
‘It’s the time to look at ourselves as one big ohana working with each other,’ Caldwell said, using the Hawaiian word for family.
In Hilo Thursday, Ace Hardware supervisor Adrian Sales reported a ‘significant uptick’ in people seeking lanterns, propane and other supplies.
‘We’re out of the butane stoves already, and sandbags have been going too,’ Sales said. ‘It’s a little hard to keep things on the shelves.’
Food shoppers have been slower to materialize at the The Locavore Store in Hilo.
Owner Catarina Zaragoza predicted people will start buying up toilet paper and water if the storm looks threatening and gets closer.
‘So many of our storms dissipate before they get here, so I think if we’re going to see that kind of uptick it probably won´t be till later in the weekend,’ she said.
People stocked up on supplies early on in the pandemic, but Zaragoza doubts that’s the reason people weren’t buying.
The hurricanes approach the U.S. all while another tropical storm barrels toward the Caribbean.
Like Hanna, Tropical Storm Gonzalo was also the earliest Atlantic named storm for its place in the alphabet.
The previous record was held by Tropical Storm Gert, which formed on July 24, 2005.
So far this year, Cristobal, Danielle, Edouard and Fay also set records for being the earliest named Atlantic storm for their alphabetic order.
Gonzalo was moving at 18 mph while its maximum sustained winds weakened to 40 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center’s Friday evening update. It was centered about 390 miles east of the southern Windward Islands.
Officials said that those in the Windward Islands should monitor the storm as it is expected to approach the islands Saturday.
Some strengthening was possible but the storm is expected to weaken as it moves into the Caribbean Sea.
A tropical storm warning has been issued for Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tobago and Grenada and its dependencies.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for several places, including St. Lucia, Tobago and Grenada. Forecasters said Gonzalo could bring 2 to 5 inches of rain.