The first of a one-two weather punch roaring toward Hawaii could hit with more force than weather forecasters previously predicted.
Hurricane Iselle appears to have strengthened and will maintain its speed as it passes the Big Island Thursday night, the National Weather Service said Wednesday
On its heels, Hurricane Julio gained strength and shed its tropical storm status, becoming a second hurricane to target Hawaii. Julio is setting up as a Sunday-Monday event, National Weather Service meteorologist Anthony Reynes said Wednesday.
"If that happens it will be something the state of Hawaii has never seen before," Reynes said.
Terrain of the Big Island, Hawaii's largest and most eastern island, could help break up Iselle with its miles-high volcanoes, Reynes said. "The Big Island has two huge volcanoes, something that Iselle certainly will feel," Reynes said.
Still, Iselle is expected to have a severe impact across the state.
"We are gearing up for very heavy rains, possibly tropical storm force winds or worse, and strong surf," Reynes said. "We are hoping the event is on the tropical storm level, not the hurricane level."
Wednesday, the center of Iselle was less than 700 miles east of Hilo with maximum sustained winds of about 85 mph. Behind it, Julio loomed but was still more than 1,500 miles from Hilo.
Julio remains a bit too far away to determine its impact, Reynes said. It could drift north and become a non-issue.
National Park Service officials at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, like most Hawaiians, were preparing for the worst.
"We're all dusting off our hurricane plans and securing the facility, loose objects, and working through what we need to do, just in case,'' says Scott Pawlowski, chief of cultural and natural resources at the Pearl Harbor monument.
On Oahu, home to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, residents and tourists were making a run on water, canned food and other supplies — a familiar ritual for locals accustomed to the risks of living on remote islands in the Pacific.
"I have been through two hurricanes and a dock strike, and it's better to be prepared than not," David Fell of Waimanalo, a section of Honolulu, said.
"You really can't tell what's going to happen. According to local legend, hurricanes never hit the Big Island, but we'll see. It might be a first," Fell said. "If it bypasses the Big Island and tracks off Oahu, things could get pretty interesting around here really quick."
Chris Pruett of Waikiki was anticipating a silver lining in that big storms bring surfers to the islands: "It tends to generate good waves,'' he told the Associated Press.
Contributing: Mike Tsukamoto in Honolulu