Hurricane Iniki

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Hurricane Iniki
Category 4 major hurricane (SSHWS/NWS)
A view of Hurricane Iniki from Space on September 11, 1992. The storm is situated over the Hawaiian Islands, and is surrounded by open waters of the Pacific. Iniki's eye, seen near the center of the image, is well-defined, and representative of an intense hurricane.
Hurricane Iniki at peak intensity just south of KauaʻI on September 11
FormedSeptember 5, 1992
DissipatedSeptember 13, 1992
Highest winds1-minute sustained: 145 mph (230 km/h)
Lowest pressure938 mbar (hPa); 27.7 inHg
Fatalities6 total
Damage$3.1 billion (1992 USD)
Areas affectedHawaii (particularly Kauaʻi)
Part of the 1992 Pacific hurricane season

Hurricane Iniki (/ˈnk/ ee-NEE-kee; Hawaiian: ʻiniki meaning "strong and piercing wind") was the most powerful hurricane to strike the U.S. state of Hawaii in recorded history.[1] Forming on September 5, 1992, during the strong 1990–1995 El Niño, Iniki was one of eleven Central Pacific tropical cyclones during that season. It attained tropical storm status on September 8 and further intensified into a hurricane the next day. After turning north, Iniki struck the island of Kauaʻi on September 11 at peak intensity; it had winds of 145 mph and reached Category 4 status on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale. It had recorded wind gusts of 225 as evidenced by an anemometer that was found blown into the forest during clean up. It was the first hurricane to hit the state since Hurricane Iwa in the 1982 season, and the first major hurricane since Hurricane Dot in 1959. Iniki dissipated on September 13 about halfway between Hawaii and Alaska.

Iniki caused around $3.1 billion (1992 USD) in damage and six deaths, making it the costliest natural disaster on record in the state, and the second-costliest Pacific hurricane on record. At the time, Iniki was among the costliest United States hurricanes. The storm struck just 18 days after Hurricane Andrew, the costliest tropical cyclone ever at the time, struck Florida.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) failed to issue tropical cyclone warnings and watches 24 hours in advance. Despite the lack of early warning, only six deaths ensued. Damage was greatest on Kauaʻi, where the hurricane destroyed more than 1,400 houses and severely damaged more than 5,000. Though not directly in the path of the eye, Oʻahu experienced moderate damage from wind and storm surge.

Meteorological history[edit]

Map plotting the track and the intensity of the storm, according to the Saffir–Simpson scale

The origin of Iniki is unclear, but it possibly began as a tropical wave that exited the African coast on August 18. It moved westward across the unfavorable Atlantic Ocean and crossed Central America into the Pacific on August 28. The wave continued rapidly westward and remained disorganized. Conditions slowly became more favorable, and, as the convection concentrated around a center, the wave was classified Tropical Depression Eighteen-E on September 5. At this time, the wave was located 1700 miles (2700 km) southwest of Cabo San Lucas or 1550 miles (2500 km) east-southeast of Hilo.[1] Initially, the thunderstorm activity was not concentrated towards the center and thus the depression was not expected to intensify beyond minimal tropical storm strength.[2] The depression continued quickly westward and remained weak until September 8, when it slowed enough to strengthen to a tropical storm.[1] Located at the southern periphery of a subtropical ridge, Iniki continued westward and strengthened over the unusually favorable central Pacific; it reached hurricane status on September 9 while 470 miles (760 km) south-southeast of Hilo. The subtropical ridge, which typically keeps hurricanes well away from the Hawaiian Islands, weakened due to an approaching upper level-trough and allowed Iniki to turn to the northwest. With very favorable upper-level outflow and warm water temperatures, Iniki steadily intensified, and attained major hurricane status on September 10 while south-southwest of the island chain.[1]

Iniki (left) as a newly formed tropical storm next to Hurricane Orlene

As Iniki turned to the north, it continued to strengthen, reaching a peak of 145 mph (235 km/h) winds on September 11 while 170 miles (270 km) south-southwest of Poʻipū on the island of Kauaʻi. It continued rapidly to the north-northeast, and made landfall on south-central Kauai early on the 11th with sustained winds of 145 mph (235 km/h), making Iniki a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. The National Weather Service reported wind gusts of up to 175 mph (280 km/h). The highest recorded wind speed from Hurricane Iniki was a 227 mph (365 km/h) reading[3] from the Navy's Makaha Ridge radar station. According to the Honolulu Advertiser, that remarkable figure was recorded at a digital weather station whose wind gauging equipment blew off after taking the measurement during the storm. After crossing the island, Iniki rapidly accelerated north-northeastward, weakened rapidly, and was absorbed by a cold front as it lost tropical characteristics and became extratropical, on September 13, about halfway between Alaska and Hawaiʻi.[1]


The Central Pacific Hurricane Center (CPHC) failed to issue tropical cyclone warnings and watches for the hurricane well in advance. For several days prior to the disaster, the CPHC and the news media forecast Iniki to remain well south of the island chain, with the only effect being some high surf conditions. Some of the standard international computer models were indicating a northward turn towards the populated Hawaiian Islands, but these were rejected by the CPHC forecasters. As late as early September 10, the CPHC suggested that Iniki would remain well to the south of the island group. It was not until a special bulletin was issued by the CPHC less than 24 hours before landfall—that any warning was given to the public.[4]

A hurricane watch was issued for Kauaʻi early on September 11 and was upgraded to a hurricane warning later that day.[1] Prior to Iniki's arrival in Kauaʻi, 8,000 people were housed in shelters, many of whom remembered Hurricane Iwa 10 years prior.[5] Because schools were canceled, traffic was light during the evacuation, and streets were clear by mid-morning. Rather than sending tourists to public shelters, two major hotels kept their occupants in the buildings during the storm's passage.[5]

The CPHC issued a tropical storm warning for Oʻahu on September 11 which was upgraded to a hurricane warning later that day.[1] Though not hit by the hurricane, Iniki's large wind field caused nearly 30,000 people to evacuate to 110 public shelters in Oʻahu. Public school buildings acted as shelters, and were for refuge only, meaning they did not provide food, cots, blankets, medications or other comfort items. Roughly one-third of Oʻahu's population participated in the evacuation, though many others went to the house of a family member or friend for shelter. The execution of the evacuations went well, beginning with the vulnerable coastal area. For those in need, vans and buses gave emergency transportation, while police manned certain overused intersections. The two main problems that occurred during the evacuation were lack of parking at shelters and exit routes for the coastlines.[5]


Known Pacific hurricanes with at least $500 million in damage
Storm Season Damage Ref.
Manuel 2013 $4.2 billion [6]
Iniki 1992 $3.1 billion [7]
Odile 2014 $1.25 billion [8]
Agatha 2010 $1.1 billion [9]
Willa 2018 $825 million [10][11][12][13]
Madeline 1998 $750 million [14]
Rosa 1994 $700 million [15]
Paul 1982 $520 million [16][17][18]
Octave 1983 $512.5 million [19][20]
Norman 1978 $500 million [21]

Hurricane Iniki was the costliest hurricane to strike the state of Hawaiʻi, causing $3.1 billion in damage.[7] Most damage was on the island of Kauaʻi, where the storm destroyed thousands of homes and left a large amount of the island without power, although Oʻahu also suffered significant damage. Iniki also was responsible for six deaths.[1]

The hurricane nearly struck the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu. Had it hit there, Iniki, along with Hurricane Andrew and Typhoon Omar, would have struck each of the three National Weather Service offices responsible for tropical cyclone warnings within a two-month period.[4]


Hurricane Iniki made landfall on the south-central portion of Kauaʻi island, bringing its dangerous inner core to the entire island.[1] Upon making landfall the hurricane produced storm tides of 4.5–6 feet (1.4–1.8 m), with some portions of the coastlines having high-water marks of up to 18 feet (5.5 m). In addition, strong waves of up to 35 feet (10.5 m) in height crashed along the southern coastline for several hours, causing a debris line of more than 800 feet (250 m) inland. Because it moved quickly through the island, there were no reports of significant rainfall.[5]

Hurricane Iniki making landfall on Kauaʻi

Hurricane Iniki's making landfall during daylight hours, combined with the popularity of camcorders, led many Kauaʻi residents to record much of the damage as it was occurring. The footage was later used to create an hour-long video documentary.[22] Commercial air service was suspended.[23]

Wind damage to trees from Iniki

Hurricane Iniki's high winds caused extensive damage in Kauaʻi. 1,421 houses were destroyed, and 63 were lost from the storm surge and wave action. A total of 5,152 homes were severely damaged, while 7,178 received minor damage.[1] On the south coast, hotels and condominiums received severe damage as well. A few were restored quickly, though some took several years to be rebuilt. One hotel—the Coco Palms Resort famous for Elvis Presley's Blue Hawaii—never reopened after the hurricane.[24] Destroyed housing across the island left more than 7,000 people homeless after the storm's passage.[25]

Sidewalk and tree damage from Iniki

Iniki's high winds also downed 26.5% of the island's transmission poles, 37% of its distribution poles, and 35% of its 800-mile (1300 km) distribution wire system. The entire island lacked electricity and television service for an extended period of time.[25] Electric companies restored only 20% of the island's power service within four weeks of Iniki, while other areas were without power for up to three to four months. Also affected by the storm was the agricultural sector.[1] Though much of the sugar cane was already harvested,[25] what was left was severely damaged. The winds destroyed tender tropical plants like bananas and papayas and uprooted or damaged fruit and nut trees.[1]

Most of Iniki's damage occurred in Kauaʻi. On the island, one person died when struck by debris, while another lost her life when a portion of her house fell on her. Offshore, two Japanese nationals died when their boat capsized. The reduced death toll was likely due to well-executed warnings and preparation. More than 100 injuries can be attributed to Iniki, though most occurred in the aftermath of the hurricane.[1]

Among those on Kauaʻi was filmmaker Steven Spielberg, who was preparing for the final day of on-location shooting of the film Jurassic Park. He and the 130 of his cast and crew remained safely in a hotel during Iniki's passage.[26][27] According to Spielberg, "every single structure was in shambles; roofs and walls were torn away; telephone poles and trees were down as far as the eye could see." Spielberg included footage of Iniki battering the Kaua'i coastal walls as part of the completed film, where a tropical storm makes up a pivotal part of the plot. Members of the film's crew helped to clear some of the debris off of nearby roads.[26]


Upon passing by Oʻahu, Iniki produced tides of 1.7–3 feet (0.5–0.9 m) above normal.[5] Prolonged periods of high waves severely eroded and damaged the southwestern coast of Oʻahu, with the areas most affected being Barbers Point through Kaʻena.[1] The Waiʻanae coastline experienced the most damage, with waves and storm surge flooding the second floor of beachside apartments.[28] In all, Hurricane Iniki caused several million dollars in property damage,[5] and two deaths on Oʻahu.[1]

Big Island[edit]

Damage on the Island of Hawai‘i was minor. Seas of 10 ft (3.0 m) were reported, along with 40 mph (65 km/h) winds.[29] In Honokōhau Harbor, three or four sailboats were tossed onto the rocks and one trimaran at another harbor was sunk. A beach near Napoʻopoʻo on Kealakekua Bay lost some sand and to this day has never been the same.[30]


Landfalling Pacific major hurricanes
Intensity is measured solely by wind speed
Hurricane Season Wind speed Ref.
Patricia 2015 150 mph (240 km/h) [31]
Madeline 1976 145 mph (230 km/h) [32]
Iniki 1992 [1]
Twelve 1957 140 mph (220 km/h) [33]
"Mexico" 1959 [33]
Kenna 2002 [34]
Olivia 1967 125 mph (205 km/h) [33]
Tico 1983 [35]
Lane 2006 [36]
Odile 2014 [37]
Olivia 1975 115 mph (185 km/h) [38]
Liza 1976 [32]
Kiko 1989 [39]
Willa 2018 [40]
Storm surge from Iniki

Immediately after the storm, many were relieved to have survived the worst of the Category 4 hurricane; their complacency turned to apprehensiveness due to lack of information, as every radio station was out and there was no news available for several days. Because Iniki knocked out electrical power for most of the island, communities held parties to necessarily consume perishable food from unpowered refrigerators and freezers. Though food markets allowed those affected to take what they needed, many Kauaʻi citizens insisted on paying. In addition, entertainers from all of Hawaiʻi, including Graham Nash (who owns a home on the north shore of Kauaʻi) and the Honolulu Symphony, provided free concerts to the victims.[24]

The film Jurassic Park was being filmed at the time; the sets used for the deleted scene where Mr. Arnold goes to the shed to turn the power on were destroyed, and the cast and crew took shelter in a hotel. Shots of Iniki made it in to the final film. Looting occurred in the aftermath of Iniki, though it was very minor. A group of Army Corps of Engineers, who experienced the looting of Hurricane Andrew just weeks before, were surprised at the overall calmness and lack of violence on the island. Although electrical power was restored to most of the island approximately six weeks following the hurricane, students returned to Kauaʻi public schools two weeks after the disaster. Kauaʻi citizens remained hopeful for monetary aid from the government or insurance companies, though after six months they felt annoyed with the lack of help.[24] The military effectively provided aid for their immediate needs, though, and help arrived before local officials requested aid.[41]

Amateur radio proved to be extremely helpful during the three weeks after the storm, with volunteers coming from the neighboring islands as well as from around the Pacific to assist in the recovery. There was support of local government communications in Lihue in the first week of recovery [28] as well as a hastily organized effort by local operators to assist with the American Red Cross and their efforts to provide shelters and disaster relief centers across Kauaʻi.[42]

In the months after the storm, many insurance companies left Hawaiʻi. To combat this, State Governor John D. Waihee III enacted the Hurricane Relief Fund in 1993 to help unprotected Hawaiʻi residents. The fund was never needed for another Hawaiʻi hurricane, and it was stopped in 2000 when insurance companies returned to the island.[43]

It is thought that Hurricane Iniki blew apart many chicken coops, some possibly used to house fighting chickens; this caused a dramatic increase in the numbers of feral chickens roaming Kauaʻi.[44]


The name Iniki was retired due to this storm's impacts, and was replaced with Iolana in the Central North Pacific tropical storm list.[45] Less than three days after Iniki struck, Hurricane Orlene struck the Big Island as a tropical depression, hampering relief efforts.

See also[edit]


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  3. ^ "Devastated Isle Is On The Mend". Archived from the original on August 22, 2018. Retrieved April 7, 2018.
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