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Today in Weather History: Hurricane Estelle Passes by Hawaii, Causing Millions in Damage

If you were old enough in 1986, you might remember the higher-than-average rate of hurricanes that came out of the Pacific Ocean that year. Hurricane Estelle was the first major hurricane of 1986 in the Pacific, and while it didn’t hit land, it did hit at the perfectly wrong time for Hawaii.

You may think hurricanes can only do damage if they actually go over land, but the churning seas can produce a lot of things that get in the way for small islands or coastal cities. Estelle may not have moved over Hawaii, but it did cause millions in damages and two deaths.

Estelle Herself

Estelle was discovered as a tropical depression on July 16th, but she was upgraded within 24 hours to a tropical storm. By the 18th she was considered a full-blown hurricane, which is a pretty rapid jump.

On the 20th, she got raised to a Category 3 hurricane. Anything above a Category 3 is considered a ‘major’ hurricane, which gave her the mark of the first major hurricane of the season.

Estelle peaked on the 24th as a Category 4 hurricane. Category 4 hurricanes have intense wind speeds of between 130 and 156 miles per hour and are the second most intense rating. This means that Estelle was no small thing in the Pacific.

Why Hawaii Got Hit

Estelle prompted a hurricane watch in Hawaii (Shocking) that resulted in over 200 people evacuating from their homes. It had already been downgraded from hurricane status when it passed by the islands, but that doesn’t matter – the water was still intense and rough.

Estelle was especially fast, which is the first part of the problem. The next is that the spring brought an especially high tide, so there was already a lot of water just off the coast. These conditions meant that even though the hurricane never touched down, huge waves were crashing onto the shore.

And we mean huge.

What Happened on the 22nd of July

The Big Island saw waves of over 20 feet in some places of coastline, slamming into the shore. Five homes were destroyed and another five sustained ‘major’ damage. Ten more were damaged, but salvageable.

The Ka’u and Puna districts on the Big Island saw intense rainfall that caused flooding due to the increased moisture that Estelle brought with her.

On Maui, the waves were so intense that they washed away a dirt road that was heavily used, completely erasing its existence.

The day after ‘the worst’ past, on the 23rd, two lives were lost after people thought it was safe enough to catch some big waves. Surfers drowned in the intense waters off the coast of Oahu.

The total damage was over $2 million for Hawaii. The islands initially thought they would come out unscathed due to Estelle passing them by. Instead, major damage and loss of life occurred.

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