HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hurricane Michael flattened broad stretches of the coastline along the Florida Panhandle when it roared onshore earlier this week, just shy of Category 5 status.
The images from those devastated areas — entire towns just “gone,” officials say — are spurring Hawaii’s emergency management community to renew this message to the islands: It could happen here.
This hurricane season, Hawaii has already seen significant impacts from storms.
Just last month, Tropical Storm Olivia made landfall twice in the islands, drenching some communities.
And in August, Hurricane Lane triggered catastrophic flooding on the Big Island and Kauai, and whipped up strong winds that quickly spread wildfires, destroying more than 20 homes.
What Lane didn’t do: Make landfall as a hurricane.
But experts say, it could have — potentially as a Category 3 or 4.
And if it had, the devastation would have been significant. If you want to imagine what a storm of that intensity would do to Oahu, they say, go no further than the images emerging from northern Florida.
“The kind of damage that you’re seeing coming out of the Panhandle of Florida would be similar to what we would see if we were to have a Category 4 hurricane that actually came in and made landfall,” said Bob Ballard, a science and operations officer at the National Weather Service-Honolulu.
“It’s all about location, location, location. If you bring that into a heavily-populated area, it’s going to do a tremendous amount of damage. It’s going to set you back years in terms of the kind of rebuilding you would have to do.”
Ballard said Hawaii does have some things going for it.
For one, it’s a small target.
But that doesn’t mean that Hawaii is protected against hurricanes. And if one were to hit, residents need to be ready.
“The reality is if we .... took a direct strike on Oahu, it would be months and probably years of recovery for some areas,” he said. “That kind of destruction you don’t just bounce back from.”
Want an example? Look to to Kauai, which sustained a direct hit from Hurricane Iniki 26 years ago.
Iniki was a Category 4 hurricane, packing winds of 145 mph, when it barreled onshore.
“They will tell you it took a very long time to get back to where they were before,” Ballard said. “And some businesses never recovered.”
Hurricane season in Hawaii continues through Nov. 30.