Tsunamis in Hawaii: Discover Why Do They Occur & How Often They Happen
Hawaii is one of the most isolated places on earth, situated more than 1,890 miles to the nearest neighboring islands. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, almost halfway between America and Japan, Hawaii consists of more than 130 small islands, individual rocks, and shoals.
Tsunamis in Hawaii: Basic Facts about the Islands
Hawaii is the longest chain of islands in the world. The Hawaiian archipelago is nearly 1,600 miles long. The main islands are located slightly south of the Tropic of Cancer and are at the same latitude as Cuba and Mexico. Almost all the landmass of the islands is on the eight main islands. The population lives on seven of them. Volcanic in origin, Hawaii was formed between 5 and 1 million years ago and is considered one of the youngest in the world. The process of formation is not over yet. Does Hawaii get tsunamis because of the fact it is still in process of formation? Yes, this is one of the reasons.
This can be witnessed by visiting the Big Island, where there are active volcanoes. Interestingly, a new, ninth island may appear, in about 100,000 years. The basaltic composition of Hawaii’s lava does not cause overpressure to build up inside the earth’s surface. Lava with more (during eruptions) or less pressure sort of swells up, solidifies, and builds islands. Hawaiians believe that the main valve is in the hands of the goddess Pelehonuamea, known for her unstable character. Despite this, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii are not considered dangerous because the lava flows are isolated and predictable. But the land shakes do provoke earthquakes and tsunamis in Hawaii.
All the islands have mountains, which form a very picturesque relief: it is steeply dropped into the sea, form valleys surrounded by steep green cliffs, or gently rise to a great height. Hawaii is home to the highest peak of the islands of the Pacific Ocean, Mauna Kea volcano (4,215 m above sea level).
The relatively small size of the islands – no more than a speck on an endless ocean – is the basis of the tourist’s traditional fears: does the island have earthquakes, does Hawaii have tsunamis, hurricanes, and eruptions? Let’s find out the truth.
Storms and Hurricanes
Because Hawaii is on the edge of the tropical zone, the islands are periodically hit by strong winds and occasional tropical storms. Although hurricanes are rare here, the islands are vulnerable to storms occurring in the North Pacific. In some cases, the islands experience only some negative effects, such as ocean swell, rain, and huge waves. All these factors may lead to tsunamis hitting Hawaii. Small flooding can occur during unusual winter showers, although devastating flooding is rare.
Hurricanes are a relatively rare phenomenon in Hawaii. From 1832 to 1949, only 19 tropical cyclones have been recorded. Only five major hurricanes have been recorded since 1957. However, strong gale-force winds have visited the main Hawaiian islands since time immemorial. The first officially recognized hurricane occurred in August 1950.Since then, five hurricanes or tropical storms have been recorded in Hawaii, causing serious damage. Hurricane Nina (1957) was accompanied by record-high winds in Honolulu.
Hurricane Dot (1959) damaged the island of Kauai. Estelle (1986) caused very high waves on the island of Hawaii and the island of Maui, as well as flooding on the island of Oahu. The island of Kauai sustained the brunt of Hurricane Iowa (1982), which caused $234 million in damage. The destructive power of hurricanes was demonstrated by Hurricane Iniki (1992). The epicenter of the hurricane passed over the island of Kauai. The wind force reached 124 mph, and the damage amounted to 2.3 billion dollars.
As you can see, there are surprisingly few hurricanes coming to the Hawaiian islands.In part, this is because the islands are a very “small target” in the middle of a huge ocean. In addition, the islands are located in the central Pacific Ocean, with cooler water than in tropical areas. Because hurricanes gain energy from the warm water of the tropics, storms in the central Pacific are less intense than in the Atlantic. There are other factors that prevent hurricanes from occurring in Hawaii. The interaction of winds blowing from the east with the counterclockwise rotation of hurricanes causes hurricanes to shift far south of the Hawaiian Islands. If storms and hurricanes are rare in the islands, then do tsunamis happen in Hawaii? The answer is yes, and the causes of them are earthquakes.
The presence of an active volcano on the Big Island causes hundreds of fluctuations per year. Most are intangible to humans, especially on other islands. The most recent earthquake occurred in the2007 year (6 on the Big Island, 4 on Oahu) and caused no damage or casualties. Earthquakes in Hawaii are much safer than in the U.S. mainland regions. The collision of giant tectonic plates causes large earthquakes in coastal regions of the USA, but on the islands, the release of magma through cracks in the plate causes small and localized earthquakes. However, such earthquakes may cause Hawaii tsunamis.
How Often Does Hawaii Get Tsunamis?
An unpredictable and frightening phenomenon, tsunamis periodically come to Hawaii. More or less significant tsunamis affect the islands about once every 25 years. But there are tsunamis in Hawaii, and they may be terrifying.Waves are most dangerous along the shores of bays and in low-lying areas of the coast.
In Hawaii, all such areas are marked with warning signs, and sirens are placed along the shores of the islands. Hawaii has the most sophisticated tsunami warning system in the world.The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center is on call 24 hours a day. How often does Hawaii have tsunamis? Not that frequent, but one major tsunami happens once every 5 years. We are ready to take a closer look at the history of the famous tsunamis in Hawaii.
History: List of Tsunamis in Hawaii
Tsunami in Hawaii in 1946
A giant wave, born of movement in the Earth’s interior, headed across the Pacific Ocean toward the Hawaiian archipelago.The wave approached Hawaii five hours after it made landfall in the Aleutian Islands.After the tragedy of April 1, 1946, the Hawaiian authorities and the U.S. government decided to establish an early warning system for natural disasters.
Tsunami in Hawaii, 2005
The damage caused by the sudden onset of the waves was great. A large part of the city of Hilo on the island of Hawaii was destroyed. Some houses collapsed, and others were moved by water more than 30 meters away. Streets and embankments were cluttered with debris, barricades of mangled cars, and the ugly wrecks of small boats, abandoned by the waves, towered here and there. Bridges and railroads were destroyed. On the coastal plain, among the crumpled, uprooted vegetation, many blocks of coral were scattered, and human and animal corpses were visible. The catastrophe took 150 lives and caused a loss of $25 million.
Tsunami in Hawaii, 2011
The tsunami caused by the 2011 earthquake in Japan reached the shores of Hawaii, but it did not cause much destruction or loss of life. Tsunami waves with a height of about 1-2 meters have reached the southern Kuril Islands and Hawaii. Based on the videos of tsunamis in Hawaii, the wave hit the coastal area and did not go further, so there was no threat.