Hurricane Madeline has started to weaken as it approaches Hawaii, but it could still strike the Big Island as a weak Category 1 hurricane. If that happens, it would be the first hurricane to make landfall on record on the Big Island.

The storm is packing winds of 80 mph, though hurricane force winds only extend 10 miles from its center. Tropical storm force winds stretch quite a bit further, reaching 125 miles from the storm’s core.

A map plotting all recorded tropical storms and hurricanes from NASA’s Earth Observatory shows how rare it is for storms to even approach the Hawaiian Islands. A combination of cooler waters and wind shear, which can rip apart storms, are the main factors that have kept Hawaii relatively safe from hurricanes.

Hurricane tracks

The western and eastern Pacific are hurricane, cyclone and typhoon hot spots, but the central Pacific, particularly around Hawaii, is relatively quiet. This map shows all hurricane tracks in NOAA's database for the period of 1842-2016 with Madeline and Lester in red. Accurate record keeping around Hawaii only goes back to 1949.

Warming waters due to climate change could tip the odds toward more hurricanes in the region in the coming decades, though.

Wind shear is cutting into Madeline’s intensity and could reduce it to a tropical storm later on Wednesday. Despite the potential for weakening, a hurricane warning remains in place for the Big Island, indicating that hurricane-force winds are expected on Wednesday.

Hurricane Madeline

Hurricane Madeline is weakening and becoming less organized as it approaches Hawaii.

Maui, Molokai and Lanai are under a tropical storm watch, which means they could experience a blast of tropical storm force winds on Wednesday as well.

Regardless of whether it stays a hurricane or is downgraded to a tropical storm, Madeline is likely to bring heavy rain to the Big Island on Wednesday into Thursday morning. Parts of the island could see 5-10 inches of rain with isolated areas getting up to 15 inches. The heavy rain could translate into mudslides and flash floods as the water races down the island’s steep slopes.

Heavy, damaging surf also poses a risk on both the Big Island and Maui, particularly on eastern parts of the coast. Storm surge could reach 1-3 feet if the storm arrives close to high tide, which could further inundate coastal areas.

A number of services, facilities and ports have been shut down ahead of the storm.

After Madeline passes west, Category 4 Hurricane Lester still poses a threat to Hawaii this weekend. It looks likely to pass to the north of the island chain, but heavy surf could still create dangerous conditions.