Hawaii Between the Storms


Hurricane Iselle was the first hurricane in more than 20 years to make landfall in Hawaii, and now Hawaiians are finding themselves between storms as hurricane Julio approaches. Julio, expected to hit sometime Sunday, is not expected to do much damage. Of course, that could change. Though it is rare for a tropical weather system to make landfall in Hawaii, Hawaiians, it seems, are pretty familiar with storm preparations. Most people in the Aloha state were probably not as anxious as Iselle approached and they may not be as concerned about Julio either.

A lot of people still have fresh in their minds the devastating images of the Hurricane Katrina. Katrina killed more than 1,200 people in the Gulf Coast. Likewise, people on the east coast may still be reeling from the 2012 fury of Hurricane Sandy as she swept from the Caribbean up the coast leaving thousands homeless and millions without power. As such, it is understandable that most people would be more than a little nervous about reports of not one, but two, potential hurricanes making landfall.

Before panicking, however, people would do well to educate themselves about the different types of storms, the potential dangers of each type and how they can protect themselves. For example, most people probably do not know the difference between a hurricane, a cyclone and a typhoon. They all sound equally frightening but the only real difference between these three types of storms is the part of the world in which they occur.

Tropical storms which occur in the South Pacific and in the Indian Ocean are referred to as typhoons. The same weather condition in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific is called a hurricane, and in the Northwest pacific, the moniker is a cyclone. Although they go by three different names, they all refer to the same combination of conditions: warm tropical waters, moisture, light winds and a pre-existing weather conditions. If these conditions occur in the right mix, ferocious winds, fierce waves, very heavy rainfall and flooding can result.

Within meteorological vernacular, there are guidelines that define the different types of tropical storms. A storm with sustained winds of 38 mph or less is referred to as a tropical depression. At winds of 39 t0 73 mph, it is a tropical storm, and a hurricane is defined by winds of 74 mph or more. There are also major hurricanes which are referred to as Category 3, 4, or 5, and are differentiated by sustained winds of more than 111 mph.

Hawaii happens to be in between storms and braced for Julio to hit, however people everywhere can benefit from knowing how to protect themselves should they find themselves in the path of a dangerous tropical weather system. While some people are adamant about remaining in their homes, sometimes against the advice of local officials, it is important to remember that during a weather emergency, government resources are often stretched thin. The decision to remain in the home when authorities are advising otherwise should not be made lightly.

If unable to evacuate, there are some steps that can be taken. Of course, ensuring the safety of loved ones is the number one priority. There are a number of precautions one can take to ensure that the family remains safe. Well before the storm hits, families should discuss a plan of action so that everyone understands what is expected if disaster strikes. Each person should know what the evacuation plan is, where they should go and how they are to communicate in the event of separation.

Other preparation musts include securing windows and doors and being able to monitor updated news reports. It is important, if possible, to make sure cell phones are charged and it is always good to have a power source for laptops, portable TVs or radios. Emergency food, medications, batteries and other supplies like drinking water and a first aid kits should be available in case of power outages. Plans should also be made for pets. If possible, make sure that automobiles are gassed up and that there is cash available in case ATMs are not functional.

Having plywood, plastic and other materials on hand to protect property and valuables is a good idea.  These materials can be used to secure windows and doors against wind and rain. It is also advised that photos, jewelry and important legal documents be secured in a safe place, wrapped in plastic and stored in a high place where they are safe from water. Material possessions like clothing and electronics can always be replaced but sentimental items like photos and other important documents are often irreplaceable.

People in Hawaii may be more familiar with preparing for tropical weather systems. Just two days ago, some there might have been more excited than cautious about the approaching weather systems, especially given the fact that these storms have had a way of passing over. In a strange twist, however, Hawaii finds itself relieved that Iselle did not cause much damage, and instead braced between the storms for Julio’s impact.

By Constance Spruill

National Hurricane Center
ABC News
ABC News2
National Ocean Service

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