TEMPO.CO, Honolulu - Hurricane Lane crept closer toward the heart of the Hawaiian islands on Friday as it weakened into a tropical storm while still drenching the Big Island with torrential rains and severe, widespread flooding, weather and civil defense officials said.
Lane, with maximum sustained winds diminishing to near 70 mph (110 kph), was forecast to make its nearest approach to land just west of the island chain over the weekend, bringing tropical storm-force conditions to Maui and the state's most populous island, Oahu, starting on Friday night.
Farther north, a tropical storm watch was posted for the island of Kauai.
The biggest immediate danger was posed by flooding and mudslides that could worsen the longer the storm lingers close to the U.S. Pacific island chain, soaking the landscape.
"We do anticipate lots of rain from Lane in the coming hours," Governor David Ige said at an evening news briefing.
But as official bulletins grew less dire through the day, forecasts made clear that Hawaii had been spared from the threat of its first direct hit by a major hurricane in a quarter of a century.
Lane was downgraded on Friday to a Category 2 hurricane, then to a Category 1, the lowest ranking on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, as it churned through the Pacific south of Oahu, the National Weather Service said. It was downgraded again to a tropical storm shortly before 5 p.m. local time as its maximum sustained wind speeds fell below 74 mph.
The storm was expected to continue drifting slowly northward and weaken further before trade winds overtake its forward motion and push it sharply off to the west and away from land on Saturday, Weather Service forecaster Leigh Anne Eaton told a news conference in Honolulu.