Eyeing Ian’s destruction, Hawaii emergency officials consider bolstering hurricane preps

A Category 4 Hurricane would have a major impact if it made a direct hit on south Oahu.
Published: Sep. 30, 2022 at 9:46 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 30, 2022 at 11:59 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s emergency management officials are looking at bolstering preparations for a major hurricane hitting Hawaii, with an eye on Hurricane Ian’s effects on Florida — as well as climate change.

Experts say it’s a simple equation: Rising ocean temperatures provide more fuel for storms, making them stronger and wetter.

Hawaii officials said they have plans to deal with such a storm, but the state really hasn’t been tested since Hurricane Iniki 30 years ago.


“We can expect to see some lessons from Ian that would carry over to Hawaii,” said Adam Weintraub, with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

But long before Ian pushed as much as 18 feet of water onto the Florida coast, HI-EMA worked with the National Weather Service on storm surge models to help predict areas that would need to be evacuated.

“At the moment, those surge maps go up to a Category 4,” said Weintraub. “We’re looking at the advantages of maybe doing a further analysis to look at a Cat 5.”

That would be a storm like Hurricane Walaka in 2018, which passed just west of the main Hawaiian islands and wiped out tiny East Island.

If a storm that size hit the main islands, mountains would increase the rain. And despite years of planning, University of Hawaii meteorology professor Steven Businger said Hawaii is still vulnerable.

“There’s things like our food supply and hurricane shelters,” said Businger. “Currently we don’t really have any good hurricane shelters.”

Weintraub agreed.

“Ninety percent of the goods that we buy here in Hawaii come in through the port of Honolulu, so if there was a direct hit on the south coast, that could put a significant crimp,” he said.

That’s why the state always urges people to have two weeks of storm supplies.

It’s been a while since we’ve needed them. Four years ago, Hurricane Lane was a close call.

“It dumped like 40 inches of rain on the Big Island. And it was coming up to Oahu, and the forecast was just really terrible. It looked like it might do some real damage,” said Businger.

The system weakened south of Oahu, but climate scientists are still sounding the alarm that hurricanes are becoming more powerful and more frequent — and that Hawaii is overdue.

“Research has borne out that the strongest storms seem to be coming a bit more plentiful, and that’s troubling, certainly,” said Businger.

“You can’t retreat from an island, unless you’ve got your own helicopter,” said Weintraub.

“This is a place where we’ve had to develop a sort of self-reliance because you can’t just bring up a tractor-trailer down the road full of supplies to help patch up the windows and rebuild the roads.”