Hurricane Watch

Hello everyone! Jacqui here with a special post about hurricane preparedness in Hawaii. Since we moved here in June we’ve had 2 big storms come uncomfortably close to Oahu: Hurricane Hector and Hurricane Lane. Luckily, Hector ended up staying south of us. Lane, however, has turned north and is headed straight for us. 

Hurricane season in Hawaii will typically run from the mid May/early June to the end of November. So, that means if you’re planning on travelling to Hawaii during the summer and fall, you should be prepared for a possible hurricane. Preparing for a hurricane feels a lot like preparing for a snow storm, but with the possibility of tornado-like damage. So, since I know there are probably a lot of you out there that may not have any idea how to prepare for a hurricane, I put together this post so you know what to do in case you find yourself here in the middle of a hurricane watch.

First, some background information. When we talk about hurricanes we typically refer to them in terms of categories. There are 5 categories which have been determined based on sustained windspeed where a category 1 is the least severe and a category 5 is the most severe. According to the National Hurricane Center, while category 1 and 2 storms are still considered dangerous, only category 3-5 storms are considered major. The last major hurricane to hit the islands was Hurricane Iniki in 1992 (fun fact: you can see actual footage of Iniki in Jurassic Park since they were filming on Kauai when Iniki made landfall). Some perspective for you…Hurricane Iniki was recorded as a category 4 hurricane and caused at least $1.8 billion in damage and killed 6 people. A couple hours before I sat down to write this post Hurricane Lane was upgraded to a category 5 storm. Dan is—naturally—freaking out a little.

The first thing you should do in the event of a hurricane watch during your vacation is to check with your hotel or resort. They should be prepared for a major storm event and should be able to give you some idea of what they expect their guests to be prepared for. Make sure you check with them about whether or not you are in an evacuation zone. Additionally, make sure you'll still be able to use the water in your room even if the electricity goes out (it sounds silly but this was a thing during an earthquake a few years back). If you're local or are staying in a rental home (and not at a hotel or resort) keep reading and I'll have additional resources at the bottom of the post.

So, how do you prepare for a hurricane in Hawaii? You stock up…and get ready to wait in very long lines. Ultimately, everyone (both tourists and locals) will need to get some type of supplies so my first piece of advice is don’t wait to prepare for a hurricane. It will be easier to find your essential items if you get an early start. Fortunately, while we’ve had our fair share of tropical storms and depressions, only a handful of hurricanes have struck Hawaii over the past century. Unfortunately, this means that we have grown a little too comfortable with waiting until we’re absolutely sure how bad the storm is really going to be before we get prepared. But even then, sometimes the storms turn or fizzle and we’re left with a whole bunch of water, toilet paper, and spam… and sunny skies. What does this mean? It means we like to wait until the very last minute and then pray that Costco and Walmart still have what we need… and then we stand in line for hours waiting to check out. If you go early, this can all be avoided. Dan witnessed this first hand: we’ve been watching this storm for a few days and bought our supplies on Sunday and Monday in essentially empty stores… today, when Lane’s path was a little clearer, the lines at Costco ran from the registers (the very front of the store) to the meat department (the very back of the store).

Whether you’re staying in a hotel or are renting a vacation home, some things you’ll want to make sure you have enough of are:

  • Water (1 gallon per person per day for at least 3 days)

  • Toilet paper and paper towels

  • Non-perishable food, such as canned goods (and a can opener) and snacks

  • Medicines/prescriptions

  • A first-aid kit

  • Trash bags

  • Cash

  • Flashlights or lanterns (not candles!) and batteries

  • Wipes (so you don't have to use your water to bathe)

Our hurricane readiness kit.

Our hurricane readiness kit.

My next piece of advice is if you’re staying close to the water or in an evacuation zonebe prepared to evacuate. (Note: the link about evacuation zones says "tsunami" but this is the resource the Oahu Department of Emergency Management says to use since hurricanes can result increased storm surge.)

  • Have your bags ready to go.

  • Have your supplies in easy to carry containers so you can load them easily into the car.

  • Know where your nearest shelters are. If you are traveling with pets, know which ones do and do not accept pets and make sure you have kennels for them.

  • Print out or purchase any maps you may need in case you lose power or cell service.

  • Make sure your essential electronic items are charged up or have an alternate power source (like batteries).

  • Store all your important documents (passports, etc.) in waterproof or fireproof containers.

  • Discuss the emergency evacuation plan with everyone in your family.

  • Stay tuned to the local news channels for updates on when local shelters open.

  • If you do have to evacuate, NEVER drive through a flooded roadway. It only takes 6" of rapidly moving water to sweep you off your feet or to sweep your vehicle off the road.

Additionally, if a big storm hits the islands there is a possibility your return flight may be affected. Make sure you call either the airline or your travel agent to find out what their policies are and how they handle flight changes due to inclement weather. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with nothing more than a funny story about how you had to battle the locals for spam at the grocery store… but if you’re not, you’ll at least be prepared.

Additional Resources

  • For more information on what you'll need in a good hurricane (emergency) kit, Hawaii News Now put together a great list using information from both FEMA and the ASPCA.

  • If you're not sure whether or not you're in an evacuation zone use this tool. This is the same site as above where I discuss evacuation, but it was THAT HARD to find that I'm posting it twice in the same post. Note that the link says "tsunami" but this is the resource the Oahu Department of Emergency Management says to use since hurricanes can result increased storm surge.

  • There is no master list for shelters and there seems to be some question about how safe some of our shelters actually are. From what I can find it seems that most public schools can be used as evacuation shelters, but you have to watch/listen for when they open. According to the NOAA Office of Coastal Management, if you have access to a concrete or steel reinforced building at least 6 stories high, then get above the third floor and stay there. Do not evacuate until you're told to since this can add unnecessary traffic and road hazards.

  • More on shelters... given the above information, the state advises people who are not in flood zones and are in homes built after 1995 to consider sheltering in place if at all possible. During a hurricane the safest room in your house will be one without windows on the ground floor (typically a room in the interior of the house like a bathroom or closet). The best thing to do is to take your family and your supplies into this room and hunker down until the worst has passed. Read this for more information on identifying a safe room.

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