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Hawaii has never seen a hurricane like this.


Half of the Aloha State is under hurricane warning with the approach of Hurricane Lane, a Category 4 storm with winds up to 156 miles per hour. Lane had even reached Category 5—the highest ranking on the Saffir-Simpson wind scalelate Tuesday and early Wednesday, the first such storm to pass within 350 miles of Hawaii in 24 years. In fact, Lane is the closest a Category 5 storm has ever gotten to the island.

Hawaii, which became a U.S. state in 1959, has been hit directly by a hurricane just once. Hurricane Iniki made landfall in 1992 as a Category 4 storm, causing more than $3 billion in damages. Whether Lane will make history as the second storm to make landfall is still unclear, but residents are preparing either way. On Wednesday, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center said the storm “is forecast to move dangerously close to the main Hawaiian Islands as a hurricane Thursday through Saturday, potentially bringing damaging winds and life-threatening flash flooding from heavy rainfall.”

Unprecedented storms like Lane are more likely now because of global warming. According to NASA, “The planet’s average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century, a change driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere.” Climate change has also raised the average sea surface temperature significantly, and as CBS News reported last week, high seawater temperatures increase the risk of Pacific Ocean hurricanes. Seawater temperatures are particularly high right now. “Researchers at the Scripps Pier in California have already recorded water temperatures as high as 79.5 degrees, about 10 degrees above normal,” another CBS News report read.   

Some scientists believe Hawaii will be more at risk from storms like Hurricane Lane as the planet warms. According to 2013 study published in Nature Climate Change, the state could see “a two-to-three-fold increase in tropical cyclones by the last quarter of this century.” Considering how few hurricanes Hawaii currently gets, that’s still a relatively low number. But it only takes one to do serious damage.