And why Hurricane Lane is an exception

By Mary Tomlinson
August 23, 2018
In this handout from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Hurricane Kilo, Hurricane Ignacio and Hurricane Jimena churn August 31, 2015 in the Pacific Ocean. None of the three storms impacted Hawaii directly.

The Hawaiian archipelago is known for crazy-colored sand beaches, some of the world’s best surfing, wide-ranging culinary traditions—and not getting hit by hurricanes very often.

Hurricane Lane, a category 4 storm currently heading toward the archipelago, is a rare exception—Iniki in 1992 was the last major hurricane to hit the island—and there are a few reasons why this tropical location is often protected.

Does Hawaii get hurricanes?

Like any tropical location, Hawaii isn’t completely immune from hurricanes. But a few key factors lower that risk substantially. First, perhaps the most obvious is that the islands are very small target in a large ocean.

But another factor protects the islands: its cooler water temperature. Hurricanes thrive on warm, tropical waters and need it to maintain their strength. The water temperature drops from the east Pacific (where the hurricanes start to form) to the central Pacific and the deep waters surrounding Hawaii. It’s only a difference of a few degrees, but it’s enough to send a hurricane sputtering out.

The final factor is the North Pacific High, a high-pressure system located to the northeast of Hawaii approximately 75 percent of the time. That system provides trade winds and keeps the islands’ climate breezy and less humid, but also stops hurricanes from frequently approaching the islands.

“The North Pacific High acts as a fan and helps to steer the approaching hurricanes coming in from the East Pacific,” explains Guy Hagi, weather anchor at Hawaii News Now.  “When that high relaxes, like a fan moving away, that allows that hurricane to bend up a little more closer to us. That’s the case with Hurricane Lane.”

When is hurricane season in Hawaii?

Hurricane season in Hawaii is June 1 through November 30. Earlier this year, the NOAA’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center predicted a near- or above normal hurricane season in the central Pacific, and the center’s director Chris Brenchley noted, “It’s very important to remember it only takes one land falling tropical cyclone to bring major impacts to the state of Hawaii.”

Hurricane Lane approaches Hawaii

Hurricane Lane, reporting sustained winds of 145 mph, is set to make landfall or pass very close to the islands from Thursday through Friday. Residents of the islands are preparing for a major weather event they rarely experience.

“Hurricane season comes along every year, but we haven’t been hit by a hurricane since 1992,” Hagi says. “It’s not a part of residents’ reality or memory bank.”

Terry Galpin, a resident of Oahu, has been spending her time cutting down trees close to his home, putting out sandbags, stocking the fridge, and moving boats to prepare for Hurricane Lane’s approach.

“I couldn’t help but think if we were on the mainland we could evacuate,” Galpin says. “There is no where to go here.”

See updates on Hurricane Lane from the National Weather Service on their website and Twitter.