Hurricanes rarely make landfall on the Hawaiian islands, but tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean occasionally come close enough to make an impact.
Hurricane Hector passed 200 miles south of Hawaii in August 2018, but still produced 20-foot waves and dangerous surf in Oahu. The remnants of Category 4 Hurricane Barbara passed 120 miles south of the state, causing heavy rains and widespread power outages on Maui and the Island of Hawaii.
While the Central Pacific region typically gets fewer hurricanes than the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean, tropical storms and hurricanes do occasionally hit the region.
The Central Pacific hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking in July and August. The peak for the Pacific hurricane season is earlier than that of the Atlantic basin, which sees the most storms from early August to the end of October. Keep in mind that while that is the designated season, these tropical cyclones (or hurricanes) can occur at any time of the year.
Based on historical weather records, the Central Pacific basin will typically experience four or five tropical cyclones each year, including tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes.
Historically, the busiest hurricane years have coincided with the El Niño cycle. The El Niño years of 1992, 2014, and 2015 all tie for the most number of hurricanes in a single season with 16 in each.
Hurricanes Hitting Hawaii
Full-blown hurricanes made landfall on the islands in 1959 and 1992. Hawaii was hit by Category 4 Hurricane Iniki in 1992, and it was the strongest ever to impact the state. It was also the deadliest, resulting in six deaths. The eye of Iniki passed directly over Kauai and caused $3.1 billion in damage. Before that, Hurricane Dot passed over Kauai in 1959 as a Category 1 storm.
Hurricanes generally weaken and are downgraded to a tropical storm or tropical depression by the time they make it to Hawaii.
Even if a storm doesn't make landfall with Hawaii, it can pass close enough to cause significant damage. For example, in 1982 Hurricane Iwa passed by the northwest of Kauai but was one of the most destructive storms ever to impact the island.
Vacationing During Hurricane Season
Many people visit Hawaii during the designated hurricane season without being affected by any storms. Statistically, the chances of a hurricane or tropical storm hitting Hawaii during your visit are very slim. Still, there are choices you can make to lower the risk of a hurricane disrupting your vacation. For example, if you're traveling during hurricane season, and especially during the peak period, you might consider buying travel insurance.
If you're traveling during a particularly active hurricane season, download the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross for storm updates and many other helpful features.
If you are in Hawaii during a storm, follow the guidance of the locals where you are staying. Some things to remember about weathering strong storms include:
- Stay in the interior of the home or hotel room and away from the windows.
- Keep a flashlight with you and extra batteries.
- Stay out of floodwaters during and after heavy rain. It may be warm but don't go wading. The water may have hazardous materials in it or may carry disease.
- Do not be a storm watcher. Wind and rain from tropical cyclones can carry debris.
- Stay off the beaches. Dangerous surf can sweep people away.
- Do not drive through floodwaters.
For more information, visit the FEMA hurricane preparedness page and the National Weather Service hurricane local statements page.