What is the risk of a Tsunami or Hurricane hitting Hawaii?

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What is the risk of a Tsunami or Hurricane hitting Hawaii?

Posted by Tony Kawaguchi, RA on Friday, March 27th, 2009 at 6:52pm.


Last week everyone on the news was saying that Hurricane Flossie was going to hit the Big Island of Hawaii. The first thing you should know is that the Big Island is hundreds of miles from Oahu, so even if it had hit the Big Island, it wouldn't be anywhere near us on Oahu. It seems like everyone interested in Oahu real estate right now was worried that the island was going to wiped out or something. In fact you if you own real estate on Oahu, it's almost like a different state than the Big Island.

As it turned out, Flossie was a total dud. She didn't even bring us any good waves. No wind, no rain, nothing. We were actually hoping for some much needed rain. So what's the deal, is living in Hawaii going to be dangerous? Are you going to worried about hurricanes every few months if you move to Hawaii?

Definitely not. Most people who have lived in Oahu for the last 50 years have never had to deal with any problems at all. If you own a home in flood plain, well maybe you should be worried, but most houses in Hawaii are on some kind of hill, so the water just runs downhill to the people in the flatlands (like me). That's why every house in Hawaii, no matter how high up on the hill it sits, has a flood zone code. Usually just by looking at the lot you can tell whether it's going to flood or not. So when you're looking to buy a home in Oahu, it's important to look at the flood zone code and find out what the risks are. You can get flood and hurricane insurance here, and depending on your house, maybe you should.

Since 1950 five hurricanes or tropical storms have hit the islands hard enough to do some damage in Hawaii. The last one, and the worst one, was Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Oahu had some damage only on the Leeward side, while most of the rest of the island was untouched except for some rain. However, Kauai did get hit very hard and destroyed several homes. It's now been 15 years and we haven't had a hurricane since.

Before that, in Hurricane Estelle produced high surf on Hawaii and Maui and flooding on Oahu in 1986 but not extensive damage. In 1982 Hurricane Iwa did extensive damage on Kauai and Oahu. Before that, you have to go all the way back to 1959 when Hurricane Dot hit only Kauai, and in 1957 there were some record winds from Hurricane Nina, but no major damage.

So if you lived here on Oahu for the last 67 years, you would have seen a few hurricanes and very likely had no damage to your home.

Now, what about tsunamis? Well first of all, the last tsunami to hit Hawaii and do any damage was in 1976. The Pacific Tsunami Warning System is setup to tell us whenever a large tsunami is coming, so if there is some giant wave coming, they will warn everyone. I say large because we frequently get "tsunamis" of less than a foot or two that couldn't drown a cat.

On the flip side, if you live on the mainland, are you going to get a warning that a tornado is coming? Or an earthquake? Sure there are natural disasters everywhere in the world, but we don't worry about them too much in Hawaii. If a tsunami comes, I bet some surfers will be riding it.

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