Common myths and misconceptions about hurricanes

When a hurricane forms, many different atmospheric factors must not only be present, they have to work in tandem with each other.

During the summer and fall in the Northern Hemisphere near Mexico, the sun heats up large areas of ocean water to at least 80 degrees or more. The warm temperature combined with light winds produces thunderstorms.

Some thunderstorms persist for days and start to swirl around a loosely defined center. When winds near the center of these storms are less than 38 mph, it’s a tropical depression. At 39 to 74 mph, it’s a tropical storm.

When winds reach 74 mph or higher, the storm is classified as a hurricane and an eye begins to take shape. The sharper and clearer the eye, the more powerful the hurricane.

Now that we know how hurricanes are formed, we want to correct some misconceptions about hurricanes and their impact on Hawaii.

Myth #1: Kauai attracts or is a target for hurricanes.

“In recent history, Kauai has been the target so to speak, but anywhere in the state can be the target of a tropical cyclone,” said Mike Cantin, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service.

Although Kauai has just as much a chance as any other island to see a direct hit, Kauai’s position farthest west and farthest north does give the island a higher chance of a direct hit from re-curving hurricanes. That’s because low pressure systems generally are closest to Kauai and can draw hurricanes closer. That type of re-curving is what happened with Dot and Iniki.

Myth #2: Hawaii Island’s mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, can deflect hurricanes.

“There is a strong history of hurricanes making landfall in mountainous locations,” Cantin said.

Hurricanes, which are called typhoons in the West Pacific, still devastate mountainous areas such as Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan on a consistent basis.

“So the Big Island mountains will certainly have an impact on the storm, but not enough of an impact to deflect them away if there is a deep strong system,” Cantin said.

Myth #3: Tropical cyclones only form during hurricane seasons.

“If you look from 1970 to the current time, a tropical cyclone — which is a tropical depression, tropical storm or hurricane — has either formed in or passed through the Central Pacific, not exactly near Hawaii, every month of the year except for February and May,” Cantin said. “So we have a historical record, a system basically for an entire year.”

Myth #4: Taping windows will strengthen them or prevent glass from shattering.

“It’s something that has been proven wrong and if you throw a tree, piece of wood, rock, or a chair through a window at 150 mph its going to go through that window,” Cantin said. “In fact, it might go right through your house.”

Myth #5: Leave a window open slightly during a hurricane to equalize pressure.

While it might seem like the right thing to do, it could actually put you at greater risk. Close and secure all windows as much as possible

“Once wind gets in, it wants to get out,” Cantin said. “It doesn’t just come in and immediately stop. It wants to blow through the next wall or even your roof and blast out windows.”

To protect your home, cover the windows with precut plywood or, even better, install storm shutters.

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