Hawaii's Hurricane Fear: Is Lane Another Hurricane Iniki?

As Hawaii hunkers down for a predicted hard, passing blow from Hurricane Lane, weather forecasters and longtime residents can't help but wonder whether Lane will become another Iniki.

Since few major hurricanes approach Hawaii, few historical models for forecast comparison exist. But it was a late, direct turn to Hawaii in 1992 that made Hurricane Iniki the most damaging in the state's history. Iniki's path has garnered much attention as Hurricane Lane advances toward Hawaii as a Category 5 storm.

The latest Hurricane Lane forecast models from the Central Pacific Hurricane Center today suggested that the storm would get to within 100 miles of Hawaii's Big Island before it made a counterclockwise turn that brushed Oahu and Maui as Lane moved west in a loop, avoiding a direct hit while inflicting flooding.

But Hurricane Lane might be more difficult to predict than the typical Gulf Coast hurricane that tracks along Florida, because storms of this size are so rare in Hawaii's Pacific region.

"There are no close analogs in modern hurricane history for Lane's combined track and strength," said Bob Henson of Weather Underground. "Hawaii's hurricane experience is limited. Only two direct hurricane landfalls have been recorded in Hawaii, both on Kauai: Category 1 Dot in 1959 and catastrophic Category 4 Iniki in 1992. (While category 1 Iwa in 1982 had major impacts in Kauai, its eye did not make landfall on the island.)"

Henson noted, however, that Lane, one of the strongest storms to ever get this close to Hawaii, held potential for the unexpected.

That's why many longtime Hawaii residents look at Hurricane Lane, a massive Category 5 storm south of the Islands, and can't help but replay images of disastrous Hurricane Iniki from 1992.

Kauai resident Mike Miranda was 12 years old when Hurricane Iniki devastated the island 26 years ago, taking a turn for a direct hit that forecasters didn't see coming, according to The Associated Press.

"A lot of people are comparing the similarities between Iniki and Lane," Miranda told the AP, noting that Hurricane Iniki's turn toward the islands was sudden and unexpected.

"I remember how very little rain fell. But I remember the wind being the strongest force of nature I've ever witnessed and probably the scariest sounds I've ever heard in my life," he said.

Hurricane Iniki's devastation was significant. Miranda recalled how his seventh-grade class was moved to Army tents for months afterward, with power out amid the destruction.

The risk of Hurricane Lane was not lost on forecaster Kristina Pydynowski, a senior meteorologist for AccuWeather. She said Wednesday morning that a direct hit from Hurricane Lane on the Hawaiian Islands was not out of the question.

"There is a chance that Lane will track over western parts of the Big Island then regain westward motion, which would take it close to much of the rest of the island chain," she said.

Some schools in Hawaii have already closed in anticipation of the storm.

Public schools on the Big Island and in Maui County are closed Wednesday until further notice, and the University of Hawaii campuses on Hawaii Island and in Maui County are also shuttered given Hurricane Lane's threat level.

Hawaii Governor David Ige has allowed nonessential state employees on the Big Island and Maui to take administrative leave from Wednesday to Friday, the AP reported. Those who work in disaster response, as well as in hospitals and prisons, are required to report to work.

When Hurricane Iniki hit Hawaii on September 11, 1992, it packed 140-mile-per-hour winds, making landfall on Kauai. The impact was devastating, killing six, injuring more than 100 and causing millions of dollars in damages.

Click here for photos of the damage from Hurricane Iniki.

"Although hurricanes are common over the eastern Pacific and annually are seen in parts of the central Pacific, they are not routinely found over Hawaii," noted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a report on the storm. Only four of these storms have hit Hawaii since 1950, according to the report. "Hurricane Iniki, with winds up to 160 miles per hour was by far the strongest and most destructive."