Hurricane Panic Syndrome Sweeps Hawaii Ahead of Iselle

from the National Weather Service in Honolulu:
NWSHonolulu ‏@NWSHonolulu
#Iselle onset times for sustained tropical storm winds (39+ mph): 4 pm Big Island, 9 pm Maui, 6 am Fri Oahu, 4 pm Fri Kauai.

Here is the ‘hurricane’ that closed down the state. You know….the one I said wouldn’t happen?

I’m not a Meteorologist, but it seems to me there are gaps in meterological training. In Hawaii, when the National Weather Service forecasts an 80% chance of rain, you can usually be sure there is an 80% chance it won’t.

Whenever the Governor or the Mayor of Hawaii County start issuing emergency hurricane warnings, you can be about 100% sure that the Big Island is safe unless you live in a high surf area near the beach or in a forest of Albezia trees, which are sure to shed their branches and fall over.

There is a reason for that. Get over the ‘hurricane panic’ syndrome – unless you just love the drama – and think about it.

Hurricanes are pretty large phenomena. They draw energy from warm water and lose energy over cooler water. And they can only continue to circulate and create damaging winds WHILE they are over warm water. Hurricanes are centered around the ‘eye’ which is ~20-50 km (~12-30 miles) in diameter. Once they come ashore, they must dissipate because there is no warm water to provide energy.

If they come ashore over a small island, or a flat one, or over a flat flood plain like Florida, they can cause a lot of damage as they dissipate because there is nothing to stop the wind until the eye of the storm reaches land.

But if they try to come ashore on the Big Island, they die. Every time. Because hurricanes are made of wind and their blood is warm water. The Big Island is 4,000+ square miles of rock, extending to almost 14,000 feet in the air. Because rock is stronger than wind, the wind cannot maintain it’s strength and speed over the island because the island, being large and tall, physically separates the hurricane from it’s source of energy: warm water. It can’t circulate. The wind dies.

“But isn’t it still circulating out at sea”? Yes, but (1) you aren’t out at sea, and (2) hurricanes have to be ‘organized’ or they dissipate.

The big island disrupts the hurricane like a hot knife through butter, and does so at the square of the forward speed of the storm if it is coming straight on. No hurricane has ever survived a direct inpact with the Big island – and no deaths on the Big Island, to my knowledge, have ever been reported from Hurricanes striking the Big Island.

I do not count the fisherman in the 1800s who didn’t return from fishing, or the person who was wandering about in a lightning storm and got hit. There have probably been peripheral injuries from falling trees and branches but I can’t remember reading about any.

I am just as sure some wind damage has been caused, but nothing serious on the Big Island, ever.

I was told that there was panic buying of water and supplies in Hilo yesterday. In anticipation of 4 inches of rain, people were buying bottled water. What? The county gets water from rain. You can too. If you think it’s somehow contaminated, put in a sliver from a pool chlorine tablet or a drop or two of iodine per gallon or boil it.

Tropical rain is warm. You can grab some soap and take a shower in it. You won’t melt – unless you are out showering in a thunderstorm – but even then, a tree or power pole will get hit; not you. Still, don’t shower in thunderstorms, indoors or out (although I do….Shhhhh!).

There is going to be some wind and rain but there always is. The power may go out, but you can’t starve. Look outside. There is food all over the place.

There is no reason to panic, or even be concerned. Just don’t be stupid. This happens every year….or, rather, after all the hype, NOTHING happens every year.

Dr. Tom is a retired scientist who is now farming on the Big Island of Hawaii.

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