Hawaii could see a big hurricane season, but most homes aren’t ready

by Gabriel Martinez
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climate change-induced hurricanes

Hawaii is facing the potential for a significant hurricane season, but the majority of homes are ill-prepared to withstand such natural disasters. Jan Pappas and Ronald Yasuda took action by hiring a contractor to secure their home with metal plates and nails to protect it from high winds. This decision was influenced by the growing concern over global warming, which is fueling natural disasters worldwide.

The vulnerability of Hawaii’s homes is a cause for alarm, especially as the islands brace for a possible combination of weather events: the heightened likelihood of a tropical cyclone during an El Nino year, coupled with the impact of climate change-induced ocean warming leading to larger and more frequent tropical storms.

In contrast to Guam, where stronger building codes and concrete homes have improved resilience after powerful storms, many of Hawaii’s single-family homes remain at risk. The traditional single-wall construction, popular until the 1970s due to its affordability, lacks the necessary protections against powerful winds.

Hurricane Iniki in 1992 exposed the susceptibility of these older homes, causing extensive damage and highlighting the need for stronger building regulations. New homes built to current codes, with proper engineering supervision, can withstand Category 3 hurricanes, but the majority of existing homes are not equipped with such safeguards.

To address this issue, Hawaii is exploring nonprofit and volunteer programs to fortify homes, but individual homeowners must also assess their homes’ vulnerability to winds. The cost of retrofitting homes or building new ones with hurricane-resistant features, such as concrete and specialized windows and doors, presents a financial challenge for many residents. However, with the increasing threat of hurricanes due to warming oceans, these investments may become crucial.

Although Hawaii has been fortunate in avoiding severe hurricanes so far, the changing climate patterns indicate a higher probability of storms heading closer to the islands in the future. This realization has prompted concerns among residents like Ronald Yasuda, who wonders how long they can hope for continued safety without taking stronger precautions.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about climate change-induced hurricanes

Q: What is the concern in Hawaii regarding the upcoming hurricane season?

A: Hawaii is concerned about the vulnerability of its homes during the hurricane season due to the increasing impact of global warming, which is leading to more powerful and frequent tropical storms.

Q: What actions have some homeowners taken to protect their homes?

A: Some homeowners in Hawaii have hired contractors to secure their homes with metal plates and nails to prevent them from being blown away by high winds during potential hurricanes.

Q: How many single-family homes on Oahu lack hurricane protections?

A: Two-thirds of the single-family homes on Oahu, which is home to Honolulu and one million people, lack any hurricane protections, making them highly vulnerable to storms.

Q: How does the construction style of homes in Hawaii contribute to their vulnerability?

A: Many homes in Hawaii are built with single-wall construction, a style that was phased out in the 1970s. These homes lack proper wind resistance and are more susceptible to damage during hurricanes.

Q: How has Guam improved its resilience against typhoons compared to Hawaii?

A: Guam has strengthened its building codes and now constructs homes using sturdy concrete, capable of withstanding Category 4 and 5 typhoons, making them more resilient against powerful storms.

Q: What is the potential impact of warming oceans on Hawaii’s hurricane risk?

A: Warming oceans can lead to hurricanes drifting farther north, increasing the likelihood of storms hitting the Hawaiian islands, and potentially maintaining their strength during landfall.

Q: What are the challenges in fortifying homes against hurricanes?

A: Fortifying homes with hurricane-resistant features, such as concrete, specialized windows, and doors, comes with a higher cost, making it financially challenging for many homeowners.

Q: What measures is Hawaii considering to improve home resilience?

A: Hawaii is exploring nonprofit and volunteer programs to help fortify homes, but individual homeowners must also assess their homes’ vulnerability and take proactive measures.

Q: How do concrete homes in Guam address the heat trap problem?

A: Concrete homes in Guam tend to trap heat, which residents combat by painting their roofs white, creating rooftop gardens, and using rooftop sprinklers to cool their homes.

Q: How does the cost of hurricane-resistant homes impact residents in Hawaii?

A: The high cost of hurricane-resistant homes in Hawaii has led to an exodus of residents to other states, and the median home prices remain significantly higher than in other regions.

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