Tracking potential tornado threats in Hawaii

Hawaii perspective on tornadoes: Lisa Kubota's 10 p.m. report
Leilani Sheldon
Leilani Sheldon
Robert Ballard
Robert Ballard

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii averages about one or two actual tornadoes each year. They normally don't last too long and they often hit unpopulated areas, but several have caused damage and even some injuries. The strongest one to hit the islands was an F2, much weaker than the tornado that just devastated Moore, Oklahoma.

Leilani Sheldon is saddened by the incredible images of destruction in Oklahoma. The former Hawaii resident, who now lives in Tulsa, is grateful that her home has been spared. She took action after a couple of close calls in recent years.

"I feel so much safer now that I know that I can get into this safe room and they tell us what things to put in there," said Sheldon.

The National Weather Service usually issues tornado warnings for Hawaii every couple of years. In 2012, a waterspout turned into a tornado when it made landfall, causing $60,000 dollars in damage from Lanikai to Enchanted Lake.

"A lot of the tornadoes that we've seen in Hawaii are tornadic waterspouts, so when thunderstorms move on shore and they have a waterspout with them, they can do a lot of damage," explained Robert Ballard, science and operations officer at the National Weather Service.

A strong thunderstorm spawned two tornadoes in Kapolei in 2009. One of them injured a golf course worker who was trying to help a customer escape the strong winds.

"The tornado in Kapolei in 2009 was on the ground for 20 minutes, so for Hawaii, that's a really long time," Ballard said.

An outbreak of four tornadoes hit Hawaii back in 1971. The first one struck Whitmore Village on Oahu. The strongest twister, an F2, tore down the six-story Hukilau Hotel in Kailua-Kona. In the end, four people were hurt and the damage totaled $2.5 million.

No tornado deaths have ever been reported in Hawaii, and authorities hope to keep it that way.

"Do I think that Hawaii could see a damaging tornado hit a populated area? Yeah, I think it's possible. I think it would be incredibly unlikely, but I don't think it's something you could say, no we don't have the conditions that could ever happen to do that," said Ballard.

Tornado season in Hawaii generally runs from October through April.

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