Q&A: Back-to-back big storms are rare for Hawaii

August 6, 2014 - 5:05 PM
AP Maps v1.6

Graphic shows the current weather conditions and forecasted location and storm information for Hurricane Julio; 3c x 3 3/4 inches; 146 mm x 95 mm;

Comparatively few really big storms pass close enough to Hawaii to do much more than shake the palm fronds, but now back-to-back storms packing high-speed winds are bearing down on the island chain.

Hurricane Iselle could hit the islands as early as Thursday. Just behind it is Hurricane Julio, which was expected to pass north of the Hawaiian islands in three to four days. Though it is not certain how damaging the storms may be, Hawaii residents are stocking up on essentials and weather officials are urging the state to prepare for flash flooding. Here are some questions and answers about Hawaii and hurricanes:

Q: How often does Hawaii take a direct hit from a hurricane?

A: Not often. Hawaii has been directly hit by hurricanes only three times since 1950, though the region has had 147 tropical cyclones over that time. The last time Hawaii was hit with a hurricane was in 1992, when Hurricane Iniki killed six people and destroyed more than 1,400 homes on the island of Kauai.

Q: If these two big storms do both hit the islands full-force and directly — how unusual would that be?

A: Very. The central Pacific basin, where Hawaii sits, usually hosts four or five big storms each June-to-November storm season, meteorologist Eric Lau with the National Weather Service in Hawaii said. But "they usually get pushed far south of the islands," Lau said.

Q: Why now?

A: Lau and other meteorologists agree that the current development of an El Niño, a sporadic and sprawling weather pattern that brings warmer water temperatures farther north, is reason enough to explain the current double storms bearing down toward Hawaii.

Q: Does climate change mean more hurricanes for Hawaii?

A: Several scientists say that seems likely. Human-caused weather changes are making the tropics expand both higher north, and deeper south, says climate scientist Jim Kossin, who co-authored a recent study on the topic in the journal Nature. That means any place like Hawaii "that is north of the average latitude where storms (previously) hit peak will be at greater risk" in the future, Kossin said.

Q: Any other bad news?

A: Yes. In general, the U.N.-backed intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, climate change will mean more severe hurricanes globally, and longer hurricane seasons.