How often do tropical systems impact the Hawaiian Islands?

According to NOAA, only four major hurricanes with winds of at least 115 mph have passed within 50 miles of the 137 Hawaiian Islands.

Residents of the Hawaiian Islands can thank cooler water temperatures and mountainous terrain for the rarity of hurricane and tropical storm activity coming near the islands.

FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin explained that tropical systems need warmer water to develop and intensify.

"For a hurricane to really sustain itself, you need 80 degrees for the water temperature, but you need that to extend down about 100-150 feet," Merwin said. "So you need that warm bath water to really sustain the strength of the system."

As a tropical storm or hurricane moves west in the Pacific Ocean, the water becomes cooler as it gets closer to Hawaii.


Looking at past tropical systems, the islands do get a passing storm, but not usually a direct hit. If a storm does make landfall, it has the mountainous terrain of Hawaii with which to contend. 

"These are mountainous islands," Merwin said. "You throw in a weakening tropical system, and it's just going to cause a washout."

According to NOAA, only four major hurricanes with at least 115-mph winds have passed within 50 miles of the 137 Hawaiian Islands.

Since hurricane tracking began, 54 storms have come within 300 miles of the Hawaiian Islands. Most storms approach from the south, trekking through 70-degree water temperatures.


Tropical Storm Olivia in 2018 impacted Maui, causing flooding and other damage. In 2020, Hurricane Douglas came within 30 miles of the Hawaiian Islands, causing significant surf. More recently, Tropical Storm Calvin prompted the first Tropical Storm Warning issued for Hawaii since July 2020.

Hurricane Iniki in 1992 brought 172-mph wind gusts, damaging 14,000 homes on the island of Kauai. Six people were killed. Footage of Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii was used in Steven Speilberg's film Jurassic Park, which was filmed on Kauai when the hurricane hit.