Hurricanes rarely hit Hawaii
By Jack Williams, USATODAY.com
The danger of a hurricane hitting Hawaii any single year is very low, but both meteorology and history tell you not to
ignore the possibility, especially if you're building or buying a home there.
First the meteorology.
Hawaii is in the tropics and while the oceans around the state aren't as warm as those of the Caribbean Sea or Gulf
of Mexico, the state does not have a chilly water barrier, like California's, which has helped keep any hurricanes
from hitting that state — as far as anyone knows. (
California's tropical cyclones
In addition, hurricanes and tropical storms approach Hawaii from both the east and the south, with storms that form
in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the Mexican Coast being the most common. (
The normal, east-to-west winds across the tropical Pacific push storms toward Hawaii, with a storm making it all of
the way from time to time and many continuing west past Hawaii.
Also, a few tropical storms and hurricane form south of Hawaii and head
north toward the islands.
In fact, Hawaii's most devastating storm, Iniki in 1992, came from the
south to pass directly over the Island of Kauai on Sept. 10-11, 1992
killing six people and doing $2.3 billion damage.
Which brings us to Hawaii's hurricane history.
Meteorologists have no doubt that hurricanes have been hitting Hawaii
since the islands first pushed up from the bottom of the Pacific as
Hawaiians had stories of storms from before Europeans and Americans
arrived, but none seemed to be as aboujt storms as fierce as those told
of in the legends of the people who lived around the Caribbean Sea
before the Arrival of Europeans in the New World's tropics in the 15th
In fact, even Weather Bureau meteorologists didn't realize until 1950 that
some of the strong storms that hit Hawaii from time to time were tropical
cyclones. (Hurricanes are tropical cyclones over the Atlantic Basin or the
Pacific east of the International Date Line.)
Robert Simpson and his staff at the Weather Bureau (It's now the
National Weather Service) office in Honolulu recognized that a storm
spotted east of the islands on Aug. 12, 1950 was a tropical cyclone, not
an extratropical storm. (
How tropical, extratropical storms differ
They called it Hurricane Able because at the time forecasters used the
World War II vintage international phonetic alphabet — Able, Baker,
Charlie and so on — to name storms. This storm was later given the
Hawaiian name Hiki.
Simpson went on to become a towering figure in hurricane research and
He organized and ran the USA's and the world's first large hurricane
research program, which continues today as the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division and to head
From time to time, a hurricane sails past Hawaii to cross
the International Date Line, which makes it a typhoon. In