WAILEA, Hawaii — Hawaii was bracing on Wednesday for possible landfall from Hurricane Lane, a rare Category 4 storm in the Pacific Ocean that forecasters are warning could bring whipping winds, flooding and high surf.
The storm, which rose to Category 5 strength on Tuesday evening, weakened slightly on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. As of 2 p.m. local time Wednesday, it was about 275 miles from the western shore of the island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, with wind speeds of 150 miles per hour.
As the hurricane raced toward Hawaii, the state issued an emergency declaration and closed government offices, including public schools. Tourists and residents were closely following the hurricane’s path and the latest forecasts, with some visitors rushing to airports on Wednesday to try to book flights to leave before the worst of the storm was expected to arrive.
But as rain started to fall on Wednesday morning on Maui, Athena Walsh, a taxi driver, was not fazed. She said she was not yet convinced that Hurricane Lane posed a serious threat, noting that only tourists and new residents panic in these situations.
“I’ve seen so many hurricane warnings and then it’s a beautiful day,” said Ms. Walsh, who has lived in Hawaii since 1979. “We’re not going to worry and stress about it.”
Hurricane Lane is the second major storm to pass near Hawaii in recent weeks. Hurricane Hector grew into a Category 4 storm as it barreled through the Pacific. It eventually veered south of Hawaii and did not make landfall.
For a brief period, Hurricane Lane was a Category 5, with winds at 160 m.p.h., making it only the second storm at that strength to travel within 350 miles of Hawaii in the state’s history, according to the Weather Service.
Tropical storm-force winds could arrive on the Big Island late Wednesday local time, with hurricane-force winds to follow soon afterward, said Gavin Shigesato, a National Weather Service meteorologist. The storm was expected to continue north toward the islands of Maui and Oahu, arriving around Thursday morning, he said.
As of 2 p.m. Wednesday in Hawaii, the storm was moving west-northwest toward Hawaii at about 8 m.p.h., the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said in an advisory. Hurricane-force winds were extending about 40 miles from the center of the storm.
“A steady weakening trend is forecast to begin today, but Lane is expected to remain a dangerous hurricane as it approaches the islands,” the Wednesday afternoon advisory said.
President Trump used Twitter to urge those in the hurricane’s path to follow the advice of local and state officials.
“Be safe!” he tweeted.
Douglas Fink, who was visiting Maui from Scranton, Pa., with his wife and three children, said his family considered changing their flights to leave on Wednesday instead of Saturday. They decided to stay, he said on Wednesday morning, waiting to hop in a taxi as it started to rain.
“It’ll just be some rain and wind, unless the forecasters get it wrong,” said Mr. Fink, adding that their hotel, the Four Seasons Resort Maui, had placed extra water bottles in their room. “We’ll spend the morning snorkeling and then make sure our devices are charged up.”
Odessa Reynon, who was working cleaning the lobby at the Four Seasons early Wednesday morning, said her family had stocked up on food, water and supplies from Costco. Ms. Reynon, who lives on Maui’s north shore, said it was the first major hurricane to threaten Maui since she moved there seven years ago.
“We’re very nervous,” Ms. Reynon said. “We’re nervous most for our safety, but also about our property.”
Around sunrise on Wednesday at the Kahului Airport in Maui, there were few signs that a Category 4 storm was approaching. The airport was largely quiet, except for one family that was desperately trying to change their travel plans to leave early. (They said they were too stressed to discuss their plans with a reporter.)
Vicky Maywald, who was visiting from Houston with her family, was waiting on Wednesday to board a short flight from Maui to Oahu. They had already booked a house rental on Oahu, she said.
“This trip has been in the works for over a year,” Ms. Maywald said at the airport. “We had all our flights booked and don’t want to change anything yet.”
The state also closed all government offices, as well as all public schools on Thursday and Friday; the University of Hawaii also shut down several of its campuses. Some stores were also selling out of water and other supplies ahead of the storm.
State authorities were preparing for what could be the strongest storm to strike since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, which made landfall on the island of Kauai as a Category 4 system. It caused extensive damage, forced residents to flee their homes and left thousands of people homeless.
The only other Category 5 storm to pass within 350 miles of the state was Hurricane John in 1994. It traveled south of the islands and did not make landfall.
As Hurricane Lane rolls toward Hawaii, mountainous areas could be particularly prone to flooding, and the southern shores could experience damaging surf levels, with more than 20 inches of rain possible. Tornadoes and large waterspouts are also possible, and the Weather Service warned residents to prepare for considerable property damage, saying some locations “may be uninhabitable for weeks.”
Gov. David Ige of Hawaii signed an emergency proclamation on Tuesday to mobilize state resources before the storm’s arrival. Officials had placed food, water and generators in every county, he said.
He later signed a memorandum granting administrative leave to nonessential state employees on Oahu and Kauai for Thursday and Friday. And at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, he said he had requested a disaster declaration from the president.
Officials are in the process of closing commercial harbors and will close some highways when the storm arrives, Governor Ige said. He urged residents to be prepared to shelter in place.
“We just want people to be safe,” he said.