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Hurricane Iniki

Date: 1992 
From: Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones, New Edition.

The first "billion-dollar" hurricane in Hawaiian history, Iniki lashed the northwestern islands of Niihau, Kauai, and Oahu with sustained 130-MPH (209-km/h) winds, 3–6-inch (76–152 mm) rainfall counts, and 30-foot (10 m) seas on September 11, 1992. Boasting a central barometric pressure of 27.91 inches (945 mb) at landfall on Kauai, Iniki was the first Category 3 hurricane to strike the archipelago since November 1982, when Hurricane Iwa's 111-MPH (179-km/h) winds destroyed some 2,325 buildings on Kauai and Oahu, killing one person. A more intense storm than Iwa, Iniki leveled more than 10,000 buildings on Kauai and severely damaged several high-rise hotels in neighboring Oahu. While only five fatalities were reported, Iniki's $1.8 billion price tag immediately deemed the storm the most destructive Hawaiian hurricane of the 20th century

The only tropical cyclone of the 1992 Hawaiian hurricane season, Iniki developed over the shimmering waters of the eastern North Pacific Ocean, south-southeast of the big island of Hawaii, on the evening of September 6. Steadily curling northwest at nearly 15 MPH (24 km/h), the young tropical depression gradually sapped the ocean of its heat and moisture, graving into a weak tropical storm on the afternoon of September 8 and a minimal Category 1 hurricane, with a central barometric pressure of 28.96 inches (980 mb), by midday on September 9. Maximum sustained winds in Iniki's eyewall now measured 82 MPH (132 km/h), while heavy rains pelted the swirling maelstrom below.

In Hawaii, where painful memories of hurricanes Iwa and Dot (1959) made subsequent central Pacific storms a matter of significant concern, forecasters promptly set to work tracking Iniki's progress toward the islands. Even though Iniki was still several hundred miles from Hawaii, comprehensive computer analogs based on climatological data and the documented behavior of earlier hurricanes indicated that the tropical cyclone had every opportunity not only to reach the state but also to grow into a major storm along the way. temperature readings taken from the central Pacific revealed that the large pools of cool water that normally surround the Hawaiian Islands were mostly absent that season, removing one of the two natural buffers that tend to moderate Hawaii's hurricane activity. The other buffer, the high-pressure anticyclone that forms just north of the islands each summer, was similarly weak, thereby allowing a hurricane of considerable size and intensity to recurve northwest instead of maintaining the trade winds' passage due west.

On the morning of September 10, as Iniki wobbled northwest, lashing the sea with 100-MPH (161-km/h) winds and moderate rains, Hawaiians commenced the long, expensive task of preparing for a major hurricane strike. Although weather analysts were still not certain exactly where Iniki's eye would come ashore, all coastal resorts on Oahu and Kauai were nonetheless evacuated early, costing hotel, restaurant, and store operators millions of dollars in lost revenue. While a fleet of buses and cars shuttled thousands of vacationers to cramped storm shelters further inland, hotel work crews began to drain swimming pools, to stow away beach umbrellas and deck chairs, and to board up panoramic plate-glass windows. Rows of shuttered storefronts turned Honolulu's streets into empty canyons, veritable echo chambers for the rising northeast winds. In Pearl Harbor, two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, along with ten other vessels belonging to the United States Navy, wisely recalled their liberty details, piped their personnel to General Quarters, and then steamed to sea. Unable to remain in port for fear that Iniki's 25-foot (8-m) waves would drive the ships against their piers, the hastily collected squadron escaped west-southwest, spending the storm's duration safely wallowing in the 37-foot (9 m) swells kicked up by Iniki's distant northwest passage.

With a central barometric pressure of 27.91 inches (945 mb) at landfall, Hurricane Iniki roared into the island of Kauai, north of the town of Kapaa, on the afternoon of September 11, 1992. As 145-MPH (233-km/h) gusts shivered the 5,000-foot (1,600-m) slopes of Mount Kawaikini, Iniki's 4–6-inch (102–152-mm) rains pelted roofs, carports, billboards, and palm groves, making an incongruous concert of the bangs, booms, rattles, and scrapes that now and again could be heard over the wind's dull scream. Those principal settlements located on the mountain's windward side Lihue, Koloa, and Princeville—bore the brunt of Iniki's southeasterly approach. Thousands of dwellings, from multimillion-dollar beachfront mansions to humble bungalows tucked into the forests of Kawaikini, were progressively pried apart by the hurricane's sustained 130-MPH (210-km/h) winds. More than 8,000 people, their houses in ruins, were forced out into the storm, compelled to find refuge in cars, local police and fire stations, schools, factories, and churches. When Iniki stripped the roof from a school near Haena Point, dozens of evacuees found themselves displaced once more. Huddled on a bus, some debated how much longer the vehicle would remain upright in the buffeting winds. Because driving it to another shelter was out of the question, they decided to arrange themselves so as to balance the swaying bus against the wind and wait out the storm. They survived.

Five other Hawaiians did not, however, making Iniki the deadliest hurricane to have pounded the islands since a preseason tropical cyclone on April 2, 1868, killed nearly 100 people on Molokai. In a year that had already seen Hurricane Andrew rampage through south Florida and Louisiana to the record-breaking tune of $20 billion, and Typhoon Omar (August 28) destroy almost every building on the U.S., held island of Guam, Iniki's $1.8 billion in property and agricultural losses could only seem a fitting, if relatively modest, finale to such a costly storm season. Quickly responding to the tragedy, President George Bush declared Oahu, Kauai, and Niihau disaster areas on September 12; Congress drafted a record $11.1 billion relief bill for survivors of the three storms. Criticized for adding to the federal deficit, the bill was eventually signed into law on September 23, the day the World Meteorological Organization announced that the name Iniki was being retired from the alternating list of central Pacific hurricane names.


Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):

Longshore, David. "Hurricane Iniki." Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones, New Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc. 2008. American History Online, Facts On File, Inc.
ItemID=WE52&iPin=HTCNE0325&SingleRecord=True (accessed April 23, 2014).

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