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Hawaii is known for its tropical climate and scenic beaches, but few realize that it has also experienced damaging hurricanes throughout history. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The last hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Hawaiian hurricane history. We’ll start with some background on Hawaii’s location and climate and why hurricanes occur less frequently there than in other tropical regions.

We’ll then highlight Hawaii’s most impactful hurricanes and examine the timeline of direct hits over the past century. Finally, we’ll discuss the rarity of Hurricane Iniki’s Hawaii landfall in 1992 and what damage it caused across the islands.

Hawaii’s Climate and Hurricane Formation

Hawaii’s Tropical Yet Temperate Climate

Hawaii is located in the tropical Pacific Ocean, yet experiences relatively mild and comfortable weather year-round. The state has a tropical rainforest climate, with warm temperatures, moderate humidity, and consistent trade winds (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Hawaii’s weather is heavily influenced by the Pacific high-pressure system, trade winds, and the surrounding ocean temperatures. The average year-round highs range from 80°F on the coasts to 65°F at higher elevations, with lows averaging 70°F and 50°F respectively.

How Hurricanes Form and Why They Are Rare in Hawaii

Hurricanes form over tropical ocean waters where sea surface temperatures are at least 80°F. Warm moisture rises from the ocean, releasing energy that spins up a low pressure storm. Once winds reach 74 mph, the storm is classified as a hurricane.

While Hawaii’s waters are plenty warm for hurricanes, several factors limit hurricane development (Hawaii Magazine):

  • Hawaii’s remote location makes it rare for storms to pass by.
  • Cooler waters surrounding Hawaii weaken approaching storms.
  • Consistent wind shear breaks up forming hurricanes.

Statistically, a tropical storm forms within 140 miles of the islands once every four years on average, but is often weak and short-lived.

Notable Hawaiian Hurricanes Over Time

Modern record keeping shows Hawaii has experienced only five significant direct hurricane impacts. Here are some of the most damaging:

  • Hurricane Dot (1959) – Peak winds of 100 mph lashed Kauai, causing floods and over $5 million in damage.
  • Hurricane Iwa (1982) – Kauai was again pummeled by winds up to 100 mph, with $250 million in damage.
  • Hurricane Iniki (1992) – The most destructive Hawaiian hurricane made direct landfall on Kauai with 140 mph winds and $1.8 billion in damage.

The most recent storm was Tropical Storm Iselle in 2014, which brought 45 mph winds, power outages, flooding, and over $80 million in damage to the Big Island. While Hawaii likely won’t escape hurricane impacts entirely in the future, its relatively protected location helps spare it from frequent dangerous tropical cyclones.

History of Hurricane Landfalls in Hawaii

Early 20th Century Hurricanes

The early 20th century saw several destructive hurricanes hit Hawaii. In 1906, a hurricane passed near Maui and Oahu, bringing heavy rain and winds up to 75 mph. Just two years later in 1908, a hurricane made landfall on Oahu as a Category 1 storm, causing considerable damage.

But perhaps the worst early 20th century hurricane occurred in 1938 – a massive Category 2 storm with 140 mph winds that devastated parts of Maui and Oahu. This cyclone destroyed hundreds of homes and caused $6 million in damage (equivalent to over $100 million today).

Mid-Century Hurricanes

The middle part of the century saw fewer direct hurricane impacts, but still some close calls. Hurricane Nina in 1957 brushed the islands as a Category 1, but did not make landfall. There was major flooding on Kauai and Oahu.

Then in 1959, Hurricane Sarah passed just north of the islands as a Category 3 maelstrom packing 115 mph winds. Luckily, Sarah spared Hawaii from a direct hit. However, it remains the strongest storm on record to pass close to the islands.

There were also several unnamed hurricanes that brought heavy rain and wind in the 60s and 70s, including one in 1968 that dropped nearly 50 inches of rain! But there would not be another direct hurricane landfall until 1992.

Iniki Hits Kauai in 1992 as the Last Hawaiian Hurricane

After over 50 years without a direct hurricane strike, Hawaii’s luck ran out on September 11, 1992. That’s when the massive Category 4 Hurricane Iniki barreled into the island of Kauai, making landfall with sustained winds of 145 mph and gusts up to 175 mph!

This exceptionally powerful hurricane ended up being the costliest hurricane in Hawaiian history, causing over $3 billion in damage (equivalent to $6 billion today). Iniki completely devastated parts of Kauai, destroying over 1,400 homes and severely damaging nearly 5,000 more.

Miraculously, only 6 deaths were directly attributed to Iniki despite its ferocity. Since 1992, Hawaii has been fortunate to avoid additional hurricanes as no storms have tracked close enough to affect the islands. Let’s hope this hurricane drought lasts many more years!

But with climate change warming ocean temperatures, Hawaii may see more hurricane threats in the coming decades.

Iniki’s Rare Direct Hit and the Damage Left Behind

Iniki Reaches Hawaii as a Strong Category 4 Storm

On September 11, 1992, Hurricane Iniki formed as a tropical storm south of the Hawaiian Islands. Over the next few days, Iniki rapidly intensified from a Category 1 to an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane with wind speeds up to 145 mph.

Meteorologists were shocked at how quickly Iniki reached this intensity, calling the development “explosive.”

In the early morning hours of September 11, Iniki made direct landfall on the island of Kauai as a destructive Category 4 hurricane. This was incredibly rare, as only two other hurricanes have made direct hits on the Hawaiian Islands since 1949.

Making matters worse, Iniki approached Kauai from an unusual southwest direction that caught residents off guard.

Wind and Rain Devastates Homes and Infrastructure

The powerful winds and rain from Iniki caused catastrophic damage across Kauai. According to the National Hurricane Center, over 1,400 homes were completely destroyed and over 5,000 were severely damaged. Many structures lost roofs, windows, and walls from Iniki’s intense winds.

Infrastructure across Kauai also took a major hit. The hurricane destroyed power lines and transformers, knocking out electricity to the entire island. Heavy rainfall and storm surge caused flooding that further damaged roads and buildings.

Debris littered the landscape, with some estimating that Iniki scattered over 100 million pounds of vegetative debris alone.

The Aftermath and Road to Recovery

In the direct aftermath of the storm, residents lacked basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. With roads blocked and power outages, it took over a week for relief efforts to reach remote communities. The Red Cross sheltered over 1,700 people and distributed clean up kits, food, and water.

The damage from Hurricane Iniki totaled $1.8 billion, making it the costliest hurricane to ever hit Hawaii. The recovery process took years, as infrastructure had to be entirely rebuilt. However, the community came together with volunteers helping repair over 5,000 roofs in the first year after the storm.

Today, Kauai stands as a resilient island, though Iniki serves as a reminder that the Hawaiian Islands are always at risk from hurricane threats even in the central Pacific Ocean.


So when was the last hurricane to hit Hawaii? As we examined, that distinction goes to Hurricane Iniki, which made landfall on Kauai in 1992, devastating the island with extreme wind and rain. Now three decades later, Hawaii has yet to experience another hurricane impact of a similar magnitude.

However, officials continue hurricane preparedness efforts today, as the Hawaiian Islands remain inside the fringes of the Pacific hurricane belt and another direct hit could one day occur.

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