Do Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa protect the islands from hurricanes?

Many on Hawaii island believe Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are protectors of the island.

While Hawaii island has seen its share of severe weather from tropical storms, like Flossie and Iselle, it has never had a direct hurricane hit.

Is that due to the island’s formidable mountains?

No, says Steven Businger, chair of the Department of Meteorology at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“The thing that protects the Hawaiian islands is the wind shear,” he explained. “Unfortunately (in this case), the wind shear has pulled a little bit farther to the northwest, and therefore the storm is getting really close. It’s a dangerous storm.

“The Big Island is not actually protected,” Businger continued. “It’s quite possible that a significant hurricane could come in from the east (to) the Big Island. It’s a situation where, if you look at the climatology, the Big Island has the greatest threat for being hit by a hurricane.”

However, Businger notes, the island’s mountains have a tremendous impact on a hurricane should it make landfall. 

“When Hurricane Iselle came and made landfall on the Big Island (as a very strong tropical storm), very little of the storm was left over after it passed over, and so the Big Island protects the rest of the islands in the chain if the storm is coming from the east,” he said. “Unfortunately in this case, it’s coming from the south, and the Big Island is not protecting us.”

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