Weathering the Storm in Hawaii

With a couple of large tropical cyclones, Iselle and Julio, swirling menacingly toward the Hawaiian Islands, it’s important for visitors in particular to know a few things about severe weather in Hawaii. Iselle is now a hurricane, and Tropical Storm Julio looks poised to develop into Hurricane Julio.

Most importantly, it is vital to know your hotel’s evacuation plan as well as the flood inundation zone in Waikiki. Waikiki Elementary School is where the Red Cross shelter will open, should it be necessary (and it looks like it will). There are more than 100 shelters on Oahu. Shelters do not provide food, water, or flashlights, so it’s a good idea to get those items before the severe weather arrives. Which brings us to the next thing. (Here is a list of evacuation shelters throughout the islands: [broken link removed])

People in Hawaii tend to take preparing for a hurricane very seriously. Lines at the supermarket will be long, crowds on edge, and many items will be out of stock. These items generally include bottled water, toilet paper, rice, SPAM, and other nonperishables. If there’s any upshot to an approaching hurricane, it’s that they move slowly, giving us a lot of time to prepare. So, if you do encounter a long wait at a grocery, well, just wait it out. When the weather comes ashore, it’s too late to go out for the baby’s formula, or for Junior’s midday snack.

It’s been 22 years since a devastating hurricane came ashore in Hawaii. Hurricane Iniki destroyed large swaths of the island of Kauai and West Oahu in 1992. It took months to restore power and water to some of the harder hit areas. Since then, it’s not uncommon for people to express skepticism about the seriousness of hurricane advisories. This is because we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security over two decades of hurricane-free life. But conventional wisdom says “it’s not if, it’s when.” Iselle and Julio could very well be “when.” Keep in mind that it’s also not uncommon for residents to say “After 22 years? We’re due.” Recent false alarms notwithstanding, it does indeed look like we’re due.

In addition to high surf and high winds, the heavy rains a hurricane brings make for extremely dangerous flooding risk. Babbling brooks can become deadly, raging torrents in seconds, so stay away from any streams. Tragedy can happen in the blink of an eye. Once the ground becomes saturated, falling rain has nowhere to go. So it goes wherever gravity takes it. This is too often onto the streets and into homes and businesses.

Going anywhere near the ocean during severe weather like a hurricane or tropical storm is foolhardy and quite possibly fatal. We hold this truth to be self-evident.

High winds make being out in a hurricane extremely dangerous. Debris flying at over 100 is, simply, deadly. Just stay indoors.

The amount of rains associated with Hurricane Iselle and Tropical Storm Julio virtually assures flooding in some areas around the state already prone to it. Don’t get caught in it.

A good resource to track Hurricane Iselle and Tropical Storm Julio is the State Civil Defense website:

Whether either Iselle or Julio make significant landfall remains to be seen. Even if severe weather puts a damper on your Hawaii vacation, you will be sure to experience the Aloha Spirit, as people pull together as an ohana (family) to weather the storm. Be safe!

Posted by: Jamie Winpenny