Last Major Hurricane to Slam Big Island of Hawaii May Have Been 1871

National Weather Service history recounts the Kohala Cyclone.

This NASA satellite image shows Hurricanes Iselle and Julio over the Pacific Ocean. Iselle brought strong winds, heavy rain and high surf to the Big Island of Hawaii on Aug. 7, 2014.
Photo: Courtesy of NASA 



AUG. 9, 1871

As you continue your storm preparation, and find yourself thinking back to previous storms, you may have wondered when the last time a big storm traveled directly over the Big Island of Hawaii. If you couldn’t think of any in your lifetime, know that you’re in good company. Neither could the National Weather Service.

Instead, the federal forecasters had this interesting historic account along with this warning: This tropical cyclone has not been tracked by any known source. The following excerpts are quoted from the August 16 and 23 issues of The Hawaiian Gazette published in Honolulu by M. Raplee, Director of the Government Press, and leave little doubt as to the authenticity of the occurrence:


The Late Storm on Hawaii

From advices from Waimea and Kohala we learn that the storm of the 9th last was most severe in those districts, particularly in Kohala. We cannot better describe the fury of the storm than by publishing the graphic accounts of it given by Mr. D. D. Baldwin, manager of the plantation, and Rev. Mr. Bond, a resident at that place for over thirty years, to Hon. S. N. Castle, Treasurer of the Kohala Sugar Company. Mr. Baldwin writes:

’On Wednesday of last week a fearful tornado swept through the district, spreading desolation and ruin in its track, demolishing Mr. Wright’s mill building and a large portion of the thatched houses in the district; throwing down our flume; uprooting large trees, and prostrating our canefields.

“The wind commenced about 6 o’clock A.M. from the North, and rapidly rotating to the West and South, and increasing in fury, reached its climax about 9 AM when it suddenly lulled into a calm fearfully in contrast with the rain the storm had so rapidly wrought. The wind was accompanied with torrents of rain which raised the streams to an unprecedented height and swept away fences and trees.”

The Rev. Mr. Bond relates:

’The storm commenced about 6 a-fd. and increased at 10 a.m. The greatest fury was say from 9 to 9/2or 9-3/4, torrents of rain came with it. The district is swept as with the besom of destruction. About 150 houses were blown down, trees in ravines torn up like wisps of grass, cane stripped and torn, as never before and even the grass forced down and made to cleave to the earth. The main houses on the plantation, though flooded, remain in position. Cooper’s shop and several of the people’s houses moved from 2 to 10 feet off their foundations. The damage is variously estimated at $1,000 to $10,000. I should say $5,000 is a fair estimate. In our garden there is scarely a whole tree of any kind remaining. A mango tree 15 inches in diameter was snapped as a pipe stem, just above the surface of the ground. Old solid kukui trees which had stood the storms of a score of years were torn up and pitched about like chaff. Dr. Wright’s mill and sugar house, the trash and dwelling house for manager, or head man, were all strewn over the ground. We were and are most thankful that the storm came in the daytime, and also that it was limited in its duration. These are the large drops of mercy mingled in the cup.’

The editor continues:

“The number of houses destroyed at Waipio, we understand to have been 27. At Waimea but little damage was done except to the road between that place and Kawaihae which we are informed, was seriously damaged in places by the torrents of water.”

“Other portions of Hawaii seem to have escaped the injurious effects of the storm. At Hilo a strong wind blew during the day, and in the districts of Kona and Kau a vast amount of rain fell without wind. The storm seems, so far as we can judge, to have been a cyclone, moving from SE to NW its most destructive force having been felt in a diameter of from 150 to 200 miles. As the China steamer from San Francisco would probably have been somewhere to the NW of these islands at the time of the storm, it is not improbable that we may hear of her encountering the gale.”


“Storm on Maui”

“On Wednesday last (August 9) the Island of Maui was visited by one of the most severe, if not the severest, storm that has been felt on any of these islands for many years. At Lahaina the storm, which appears to have been almost violent cyclone, commenced about ten o’clock, and ranged for several hours. The following graphic description by a resident, will give our readers news of the violence there:

’Thursday morning – I hope you are all safe there. We, here of Lahaina, have had one of those terrific, tropical storms, hurricanes, cyclones, or if there is any harder word in the dictionary it well deserves it, which we read of in sensation paragraphs, but which few men actually witness more than two to three times in their lives.

’It commenced yesterday morning before daybreak with a fine, steady rain accompanied by a rising wind from the North and Northeast increasing in violence until about noon, when the play was at its height, and coconuts, breadfruit, branches of trees and whole trees might be seen pirouetting and gallopading down one street and up another, while the horrible roar of the gale, now shrieking like 5000 steam whistles let off at once, now becoming like magnificent thunder kept up with music to the mad performance.

’Add to that an inveterate rain that knew no ceasing from early morn to late at night and you may have an idea of a tropical storm in Lahaina.

’Owing to the previous dry spell of long duration, the swollen streams from the mountain did not come down till about 11 A.M. and the water in the canal in front of my house was gradually rising by the rain alone until it was full and overflowing. At that time down came the accumulated waters from the mountain sides in all directions, red, like streams of blood, roaring like wild bulls, plowing up channels of their own, inundating houses and making confusion worse confounded. The damage to fruit trees, vineyards and canefields must be very considerable but as yet (Thursday morning) no accurate accounts have been received. The wind gradually wore round from North to Southwest and subsided at 5 P.M.’

Captain Makee writes:

“We have met with a great misfortune, but not, I hope, an irremediable one. At a quarter past ten this morning I went into the office to write letters. I had just begun to write when the wind began to blow furiously; in five minutes after, it was blowing one of the most fearful hurricanes I ever experienced. The door of the office was blown in, and took all the strength of Mr. S. and myself to close it and nail it up. Just as we had secured the door we saw the flagstaff fall. The hurricane being so terrific that trees, houses, and everything about were flying before the force of the wind.

“I was of course anxious to get to the dwelling house, but could see no way of accomplishing my desire. At this time a servant who had managed to get to the office window informed me that (omitted) was sick. I got out of the lee window of the office and made a desperate attempt to get to the house. The air was literally full of branches of trees, barrels, and shingles. It seemed as though the Furies were let loose. I finally got into the garden where the trees were falling in every direction, when a gust of wind took me and threw me some ten feet, fortunately landing on a grass plot, by which good fortune I received no injury. One of the natives came with great difficulty to my rescue, when, with great exertion we succeeded in getting into the house. I found (omitted) had swooned with fright. She had been in the cottage and had in passing from there to the house narrowly escaped being crushed by the falling trees; arrived at the house, the terrible danger through which she had passed overcame her.”