The Hawaiian Islands are experiencing the effects of Hurricane Lane, a Category 4 storm with heavy rain, flash flooding and damaging winds. The Aloha State is no stranger to natural hazards, like Mount Kilauea’s volcanic eruption that destroyed nearly 700 homes earlier this year.
But it’s unusual for Hawaii to face the threat of a hurricane, or what scientists call a tropical cyclone. Only two hurricanes have made landfall in Hawaii since the 1950s: Hurricane Dot in 1959 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
Here’s why it’s rare:
The central Pacific Ocean doesn’t see as many storms as the eastern Pacific or Atlantic.
Tropical cyclones are fueled by warm, moist air, and thrive in water temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NOAA. Storms that approach from the east often weaken near Hawaii because of cooler water temperatures and drier, more stable air. But Hurricane Lane is approaching from the south in warmer waters, after it formed 1,000 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, according to the Weather Channel.
The Hawaiian Islands are also a small target in the vast Pacific Ocean and aren’t often threatened. Forecasters say Hawaii gets a named storm within 60 miles of its coastline once every four years on average.