Part of living in Hawaii includes all the potential dangers of doing so including volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis and…hurricanes but we quickly realized hurricanes rarely hit Hawaii. Recently there were two hurricanes headed towards Hawaii – Erick and Flossie. Both had the possibility of hitting the Big Island but as I write this Erick headed further south and Flossie is weakening. I wondered whether we just got lucky or if this is more the norm.
Hawaii has been hit by a hurricane just two times since 1958. Hurricane Dot hit Hawaii in August of 1959. Hurricane Iniki hit Hawaii in September of 1992. Iselle, although not a hurricane but rather a tropical storm, hit Hawaii in August of 2014.
How Often do Hurricanes Hit Hawaii
Hawaii rarely gets hit by hurricanes but that does not mean it does not have anything to worry about. Outside of direct hurricane hits there are close-calls, tropical storms and tropical depressions all worth understanding.
If we include only direct hits but expand it from merely hurricanes to all major storms Hawaii has been hit a total of seven times:
- Unnamed Tropical Depression in 1958
- Hurricane Dot in 1959
- Tropical Depression Raymond in 1983
- Tropical Depression Gilma in 1988
- Hurricane Iniki in 1992
- Tropical Depression Eugene in 1993
- Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014
Everything is Relative
I was curious about hurricanes as I have lived in Arizona and Colorado where we don’t see many hurricanes. Having 7 major storms since 1958 seemed like something to be concerned about, or at least be aware of. If we are living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and we get hit by a storm we need to be prepared, right?
I thought it might be interesting to see which US state gets hit the most. And I bet you can guess…yep Florida is the most hit by hurricanes in the United States.
Florida, during the same time has been hit 112 times by a hurricane, tropical storm or tropical depression! Of those 112 direct hits, 27 were hurricanes. Yikes!
Close-Calls to Hawaii
Just because a hurricane or storm does not directly hit Hawaii does not mean it does not have a major impact. Hurricane Lane in 2018 did not hit Hawaii but came very close. As a category 5 hurricane this was a huge weather event that hit Hawaii hard.
Hurricane Lane had 160 mph winds and accumulated 58 in of rain at Kahūnā Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii. Total damage to Hawaii exceed $42.5 million with President Trump declaring it a disaster area and $2.5 million of aid from FEMA.
Why Hawaii Doesn’t Get Hit by Hurricanes
Ok, so we know Hawaii gets hit, but just not very often. But why? The first thing I needed to do is understand how hurricanes form in the first place.
The Four Ingredients of a Hurricane
Hurricanes have a very particular recipe needed to form a hurricane. Here are the four ingredients necessary for a hurricane to occur:
- Pre-existing weather disturbance
- Warm water (80°F)
- Thunderstorm activity
- Low wind shear
With these ingredients here is how the hurricane forms.
First, there is some sort of weather disturbance that occurs in the ocean. Normally this is a tropical wave in a low-pressure area.
Second, that weather disturbance moves over warm ocean waters that get pulled up into the storm creating an even greater low-pressure system pulling more air in.
Then, thunderstorms form or get gobbled up by these low-pressure systems which create fuel for the hurricane to form.
Finally, in the absence of large variances in wind, the storm is able to move along pulling more warm air and water into the system allowing it to grow stronger and stronger.
Hawaii Sweet Spot
Now that I understood how hurricanes form in the first place I wanted to better understand why Hawaii didn’t get many hurricanes.
First of all, have you ever seen Hawaii on a map? If not here you go…
See those dots in the middle of the huge blue ocean? Yeah, that’s Hawaii. Now, imagine putting a poster of this on your wall and throwing darts at it randomly. How often do you think you would hit one of the Hawaii islands. Not very often which is the same reason hurricanes don’t hit Hawaii often either!
But there is more to it than just the fact that Hawaii is in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean. It has to do with where the hurricanes get started. Normally they get started in off the West coast of Mexico. The warm ocean water creates the ideal environment for the hurricane to grow strength (remember the second ingredient of a hurricane is warm water).
The storm then heads towards Hawaii but runs into a problem. The winds. The natural wind pattern diverts most storms around Hawaii. But occasionally one finds its way to Hawaii but then another road block pops up.
Cooler ocean waters. Back to ingredient #2. Hawaii has, relatively, cooler water compared to the water near Mexico which means that the hurricane does not have the fuel it needs to grow, or even survive which means that most tropical storms or hurricanes that head for Hawaii end up losing all their strength before getting here.
But, some still make it despite the cooler water which is where they hit their last obstacle of high-pressure. Hawaii has a unique high-pressure system that creates a ridge protecting the islands from these major storms. And since hurricanes grow in strength with low-pressure systems Hawaii has a natural barrier built in.
The Kona Sweet Spot
If Hawaii is in a sweet spot to avoid hurricanes then Kona on the Big Island is in the sweet spot of all sweet spots.
The Big Island has this big rock sitting right in the middle of it. In fact, it is the tallest peak in the entire world when measured from base to peak and stands over 13,750 ft above sea level.
Just imagine what happens if a storm happens to avoid all the obstacles in its way to get to Hawaii and happens to hit the Big Island. It then faces the biggest obstacle of them all in the form of a huge brick wall. What does the storm do? It has no other choice than to go around it. Some of it goes to the left, some goes to the right, some goes over but ultimately the storm gets all broken up and therefore reduces the strength of the storm.
Hawaii Hurricane Season
Hawaii ‘s hurricane season is from June 1 though November 30 and is part of the Central Pacific region.
Looking over the past storms we can see that they normally hit Hawaii between mid July and mid September.
Coincidentally Hawaii’s hurricane season lands during the same time period the high-pressure system forms. Since the high-pressure systems sit near Hawaii between May and October it creates the best possible barrier to hurricanes Hawaii could ask for.
How to Prepare for a Hurricane
The biggest concern about storms hitting Hawaii is the fact that it is an island. It is literally, thousands of miles from food sources, fuel and aid. This is exactly why those who live here must be prepared.
Have a 2 Week Supply Kit
When a storm hits you need to be prepared to live on your own for at least 2 weeks. Although unlikely that you would truly be on your own for that entire time it is better to be safe than sorry, right? Here is what should be included in your supply kit:
- Food & Water: 1 gallon per day per person of drinking water and non-perishable food
- Medical: first aid kit, medical supplies and medications
- Tools: batteries, radio, flashlight, manual can opener, tools and fire extinguisher
- Clothes: warm clothes, sturdy shoes, glasses
- Personal Care: personal hygiene, toilet paper
- Other: cash, ID, important documents safe and handy, comfort & entertainment, pet supplies
Have a Plan
In addition to a kit they recommend having a plan in place including:
- Sign up for emergency alerts
- Identify your emergency alert system radio stations
- Know your evacuation routes
- Check in with family, friends or neighbors who may need additional assistance
Living here in Hawaii I feel pretty darn safe. Actually, I feel even safer after doing this research and realizing all the reasons why it is very unlikely Hawaii will get hit with a hurricane. And if it does I live in probably the best spot in Hawaii to make sure I never see a hurricane while living in paradise!