Hurricanes rarely make landfall on the Hawaiian islands, but these tropical cyclones in the Pacific Ocean occasionally come close enough to make an impact. By the time they make it to Hawaii, the hurricanes generally weaken and are downgraded to a tropical storm or tropical depression.
While the Central Pacific region typically gets fewer hurricanes than the Southeastern U.S. and Caribbean, tropical storms and hurricanes do sometimes hit. It is a good idea to be prepared before planning a trip to the islands famous for their beauty.
Hurricane History in Hawaii
Many storms have affected Hawaii over the years. Oahu and Kauai had a close call in July 2020 when Category 4 Hurricane Douglas passed only about 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the islands, causing minimal damage. Hurricane Barbara, also a Category 4 storm, passed 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of the state in July 2019, creating heavy rains and widespread power outages on Maui and the island of Hawaii, known as the "Big Island." Category 3 Hurricane Hector passed south of the islands in August 2018, but still produced 20-foot waves and dangerous surf in Oahu.
In November 1982, Category 1 Hurricane Iwa passed by the northwest of Kauai but was one of the most destructive storms ever to impact the state. Iwa affected Kauai, Niihau, and Oahu with serious damage to over 2,000 buildings (mostly homes). Hurricane Nina, a Category 1 storm in November 1957, didn't hit directly, but caused notable damage to Kauai and Oahu.
Only two full-blown hurricanes have made landfall on the islands. Hurricane Dot hit Kauai in August 1959 as a Category 1 storm, knocking down trees and power lines and causing minor damage to the Big Island and Oahu. Category 4 Hurricane Iniki in September 1992 was the strongest ever to impact the state, resulting in six deaths. The eye of Iniki passed directly over Kauai and created about $1.8 billion in damage.
The Central Pacific hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, peaking in July and August. In the Atlantic basin, most storms take place 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 typically experiences four or five tropical cyclones each year, including tropical depressions, tropical storms, and hurricanes. The busiest hurricane years have usually coincided with the El Niño cycle.
Safety During Your Vacation
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, you can lower the risk of a hurricane disrupting your vacation. If you're traveling during hurricane season, especially during the peak period, you might consider buying travel insurance or downloading the Hurricane app from the American Red Cross for storm updates and many other helpful features.
Should you be in Hawaii during a storm, follow the guidance of the locals where you are staying. Some tips for weathering strong storms include:
- Stay in the interior of the home or hotel room and away from the windows.
- Keep a flashlight and extra batteries with you.
- Stay out of floodwaters during and after heavy rain. The water may have hazardous materials in it or may carry disease.
- Avoid driving through floodwaters.
- Do not be a storm watcher. Wind and rain from tropical cyclones can carry debris.
- Avoid the beaches. Dangerous surf can sweep people away.
Recap of Hurricane Season 2019
Hurricane Barbara, a Category 4 storm, passed not far from the islands in July 2019, bringing heavy rains and power outages to Maui and the island of Hawaii. In August 2019, Hurricane Erick passed about 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of the Big Island as a tropical storm. That month, Hurricane Flossie came close to Hawaii as a weakening tropical depression, but passed northeast of the Big Island and dissipated.
Hurricane Predictions for 2020
In 2020, the Pacific Ocean temperatures were expected to be average and no El Niño effect was predicted. Due to these conditions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Central Pacific Hurricane Center and its Climate Prediction Center expect the region to have a below or near-normal hurricane season in 2020. Two to six tropical cyclones were predicted, which includes tropical depressions, named storms, and hurricanes. Category 4 Hurricane Douglas came close to the islands in July.