Hurricane Lane spun across the Pacific as a Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday, August 21, but thanks to strong wind shear and dry air, the storm weakened significantly as it approached Hawaii, according to Weather.com. Although Lane was downgraded to a tropical storm and passed south of Hawaii, the storm dumped record-setting rainfall over the islands, causing flooding and landslides.
Even though Hawaii dodged the worst of the wind damage and storm surge that would have accompanied a direct hit by Hurricane Lane, many homes were damaged or destroyed by flooding and some strong winds. Additionally, USA Today reported several wildfires broke out on Maui, possibly the result of downed power lines and strong winds. The fires led to more evacuations and damaged more homes.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), Lane dropped 52.02 inches of rain on Hawaii from August 22–26, making it the wettest tropical cyclone on record to ever hit Hawaii. In storms impacting the U.S., Lane’s rainfall totals are second only to Hurricane Harvey, which produced 60.58 inches in Nederland, Texas just last year.
The heaviest rainfall occurred on the Big Island where the island’s topography played a role, according to Weather.com. The storm’s moisture encountered the Big Island’s mountains and was forced upward, increasing the precipitation on the windward side. Without the mountains, Lane’s rainfall totals would have been much lower.
Some residents of the Big Island had to be evacuated due to dangerous flooding, according to CNN and other outlets. Landslides and washed out roads left other residents stranded, leading to water rescues. So far there is just one reported death from Lane; a 30-year-old man in Kauai who was trying to save a dog, according to the Associated Press.
Hurricane landfalls are relatively rare in Hawaii due to a number of factors including its small geographical size, cooler water temperatures, drier air, and wind shear (the change of wind speed or direction with height) that is typically stronger near Hawaii, according to Weather.com. These factors often cause major storms to weaken and turn before they reach Hawaii, which is precisely what happened with Lane.