A graphic created by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center illustrates how lucky Hawaii has been so far in a record-breaking tropical cyclone season.
The graphic, created by hurricane specialist Kevin Kodama, combines infrared images from each of the 15 tropical cyclones that entered the Central Pacific from June 1 until now.
The storms form a lei, swirling around the islands. But none of the storms made a direct hit.
“I think it shows we were extremely lucky this season,” said Bob Ballard, the science and operations officer at the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.
“This year we didn’t have the marginal water temperatures near us that can help protect us,” Ballard said. “They (hurricanes) had a green light. As far as sea surface temperatures go, the water was warm. … The only thing that really stopped them was luck.”
Ballard said El Nino, a warming of the Pacific, helped create conditions that generated a record number of tropical storms around Hawaii.
Hawaii was protected by the subtropical jet stream, upper atmosphere winds which created wind shear that weakened most storms before they reached the state, and also helped steer storms away from the islands.
But in a couple of cases this year, the jet stream wasn’t over the islands as storms approached, and Hawaii avoided a direct hit only because the storm’s path didn’t bring them close to the islands, Ballard said.
“Ignacio could have whacked us pretty good,” Ballard said. “That’s where a little luck came into play.”
The previous record for tropical cyclones in the Central Pacific was 11 in 1992 and 1994.
Hurricane season officially runs until the end of November. But Ballard said it’s not unheard of to have tropical cyclones enter the Central Pacific in December, especially if water temperatures remain warm.
With El Nino, “there is a higher-than-normal chance of getting something to develop in the Central Pacific out of season,” he said.
Ballard cautioned that while Hawaii has been lucky in a year with a lot of storms, it only takes one storm to make a direct hit.
“We’re a small target in a big ocean, but it’s just a matter of time,” he said. “There’s no particular reason why hurricanes can’t reach the islands if conditions are right.”