What is a Hurricane?

A hurricane develops from a tropical cyclone when the storm’s maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a 1 to 5 rating, or category, based on the hurricane’s maximum sustained winds. It was developed to predict the potential property damage that a hurricane could cause. The scale is based on historical data from past hurricanes with similar characteristics: winds, rainfall, storm surge and central pressure.

A tropical cyclone is a meteorological term for a storm system characterized by a low-pressure center and thunderstorms, that produces strong wind and flooding rain.

Hurricane Season begins on June 1 and ends on November 30.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Minimal Hurricane
Hurricane winds are from 74 to 95 mph
Damage: loose objects, trees and shrubbery

Moderate hurricane
Hurricane winds are from 96 to 110 mph
Damage: trees, loose structures, windows, coastal areas may be evacuated

Major Hurricane
Hurricane winds are 111 to 130 mph
Damage: properties along the coast and inland

Extreme Hurricane
Hurricane winds are from 131 to 155 mph
Damage: widespread and well-inland

Catastrophic Hurricane
Hurricane winds are greater than 155 mph
Damage: Complete failure of roofs and small buildings, extensive shattering of glass, doors blown out, ocean front buildings flattened

History of Hurricanes in Hawaii

Since the 1970s, more than seven hurricanes per decade has had some ill effect on the islands. From 2010 through 2016 there have been 12 hurricanes that passed by or made landfall on Hawaiian shores. As the incidence of hurricanes is increasing the cost of the damage due to the winds, rain and flooding are also increasing. The most significant hurricanes in our recent past, Iwa and Iniki caused $312 million and $1.8 billion in damages, respectively.

$312 Million (USD in 1982) in Damage from Iwa

Hurricane Iwa – November 1982

Hurricane Iwa was at the time the costliest hurricane to affect the state of Hawaii. Iwa was the twenty-third tropical storm and the twelfth and final hurricane of the 1982 Pacific Hurricane Season. It developed from an active trough of low pressure near the equator on November 19.

It moved erratically northward until becoming a hurricane on November 23 when it began accelerating to the northeast. Iwa passed within 25 miles of the island of Kauai with peak winds of 90mph on November 23 and the next day it became extratropical to the northeast of the state.

Iwa severely damaged or destroyed 2,345 buildings, including 1,927 houses, leaving 500 people homeless.

The hurricane devastated the islands of Niihau, Kauai and Oahu with wind gusts exceeding 100mph and rough seas exceeding 30 feet in height. The first significant hurricane to hit the Hawaiian Islands since statehood in 1959, Iwa severely damaged or destroyed 2,345 buildings, including 1,927 houses, leaving 500 people homeless.

Damage throughout the state totaled $312 million (USD 1982). One person was killed from the high seas, and three deaths were indirectly related to the hurricane’s aftermath.

$1.8 Billion (USD in 1992) in Damage from Iniki

Hurricane Iniki – September 1992

Hurricane Iniki was the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. state of Hawaii in recorded history. Forming on September 5, 1992, during the strong 1990–95 El Niño, Iniki was one of eleven Central Pacific tropical cyclones during that season. It attained tropical storm status on September 8 and further intensified into a hurricane the next day. After turning north, Iniki struck the island of Kauai on September 11 at peak intensity with winds of 145 mph, reaching Category 4. It was the first hurricane to hit the state since Hurricane Iwa in the 1982 season, and the first major hurricane since Hurricane Dot in 1959.

Iniki caused around $1.8 billion (USD 1992) of damage and six deaths. At the time, Iniki was among the costliest United States hurricanes, and it remains one of the costliest hurricanes on record in the eastern Pacific. The storm struck just weeks after Hurricane Andrew, the costliest tropical cyclone ever at the time, hit Florida.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) failed to issue tropical cyclone warnings and watches 24 hours in advance. Despite the lack of early warning, only six deaths ensued. Damage was greatest on Kauai, where the hurricane destroyed more than 1,400 houses and severely damaged more than 5,000. Though not directly in the path of the eye, Oahu experienced moderate damage from wind and storm surge.

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