The history of hurricanes in Hawaii

Kapaa, Kauai after Hurricane Dot (Photo: Star Advertiser)

Dot. Iwa. Iniki.

Three powerful hurricane names that will never be used again and never forgotten.

Aug. 7, 1959: Kapaa, Kauai after Hurricane Dot (Photo: Star Advertiser)
Aug. 7, 1959: Kapaa, Kauai after Hurricane Dot (Photo: Star Advertiser)

August 6, 1959. Hurricane Dot approaches the Big Island as a powerful category 4 hurricane.

“Dot was a system that followed a similar track to Iniki, forming to the east of us then kind of tracking westward, south of the state, then re-curving more toward Kauai,” said Mike Cantin, warning coordination meteorologist, National Weather Service.

Hurricane Dot hit Kauai with 81 mph winds. Damage included blown roofs on Kauai, power outages, downed telephone lines and trees, wind damage and flooding.

Despite $6 million in damage, there was not a single fatality.

Dot was the first recorded hurricane to hit the state, but it was also the weakest of the three on record since statehood.

November 23, 1982. Hurricane Iwa passed just 25 miles west of Kauai with 100 mph winds on an unusual path.

Hurricane Iwa, Oahu

“Iwa actually started to the southwest of the state and, after it formed, it almost immediately tracked to the north in a rapid hook from the north to the northeast,” Cantin said. “Most of our storms come from east to west out of the East Pacific.”

Due to Iwa’s quick forward speed, rain damage was minimal. Most of the damage came from storm surge and winds over Kauai and Oahu totaling $250 million. There was one fatality.

Hurricane Iwa became Hawaii’s most powerful hurricane until…

September 11, 1992. Hawaii endured the most costly and deadliest hurricane in state history.

The National Weather Service said Hurricane Iniki slammed Kauai with 140 mph winds.

The storm completely destroyed 1,421 homes and damaged more than 5,000, causing $3 billion in total damage and six deaths.

Communications in and out of Kauai were severed, leaving many to wonder about family members and their safety. The communications blackout lasted for days.

“I didn’t know what was going on with them, and they were in impacted areas, until probably a week later, probably five to seven days later, when we were able to find out that they were okay,” Cantin said.

Hurricane Iniki, Kauai

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center tracked Iniki long before it threatened the islands.

Residents knew it was out in the waters to the south of the island. Thinking it was far away, many had their guards down.

What Hawaii residents and forecasters didn’t know was that Iniki would curve to the north.

“One thing that really leads to the surprise nature of Iniki is that… the forecasts were initially keeping it to the south of the state. Everything looked like it was turning that way,” Cantin said.

“It looked like it was initially heading west and it started to re-curve, but it looked like it was going to continue west from there,” he added. “Forecasting a re-curving system is extremely difficult.”

Hurricane forecasting has come a long way since Iniki.

Computer forecast models are more accurate with storm trackers. There are more weather satellites today watching weather systems around the globe, and technology in hurricane hunter aircraft has been refined to get accurate readings on hurricane strength.

The level of awareness is also up because of storms like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

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