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Island Hazards

There are some shocking realities of living on an island chain created by a volcanic hotspot. When making your decision to live in paradise, you also accept additional risks, and we would rather you be informed ahead of time. There is the reality that some homes need volcano, tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, and flood insurance. However, the hazards are acknowledged but not overly feared, much like tornadoes in the Midwest or earthquakes in California.

ʻᾹina Hazards

The Hawaiian Island chain extends far beyond the islands we see, created by the volcanic hotspot which the continental plate continually moves over, which presents a unique series of hazards.

graphic showing the Hawaiian islands formed over pacific hotpsot
A magma 'Hotspot' in the Pacific Ocean created the Hawaiian Islands

Volcanoes

Creator of "vog" (see Climate tab), lava tubes, black sand beaches, and has the ability to (at a snail’s pace usually) wipe entire towns from the island. If there is a current flow active, you can find out more about it at the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Click here for up-to-date information about the current lava flows on the Big Island and its impact on UH Hilo.

Earthquakes

We may not be on a fault line, but we are slowly moving off the hotspot and are living on an active volcano. As such, the earth tends to shake every once in a while.

Tsunamis

Tsunami sign We live in the center of the "Ring of Fire" (which extends around the Pacific Rim). The edges of this tectonic plate move and have earthquakes, which give us tsunamis. You will see signs around town which direct you to higher ground. Bear in mind we have monthly testing of the sirens (1st work day of the month). In the event of a tsunami there will usually be several hours before the wave arrives, and technology can tell how big the waves may be as they approach the shores of the island.

Hurricanes

From June to November we have hurricane season. Hurricane Iselle in 2014 took out a fair amount of trees and hit the town of Pāhoa (about 20 miles from Hilo). Usually hurricanes get drawn north of the island, which can cut off trade winds and make things really humid for a week, or we get the outskirts of the system and rain dumping on us. It’s usually surprising when it hits, and people who live in Hawai'i tend to be more relaxed than say Floridians when it comes to boarding things up and hunkering down.

Flash Floods

Remember that 126.69 inches of rain per year? Sometimes it comes a fair amount faster and can be a problem for neighborhoods.

Rivers

Go with a local; they will know the safe swimming and jumping spots. Remember those lava tubes? They are networked under the island, and you can get sucked into them if you jump into the wrong spot in a river. It is not a good idea to go swimming in a river if it has been raining.

Illnesses to Watch Out For

Dengue Fever
Caused by mosquito bites: Watch out when hiking and get yourself some mosquito spray.
Leptosporosis
The rivers are warm enough here to breed diseases.
Rat Lung Disease
Comes from snails going over lettuce especially. Wash your fresh vegetables.
Coral
It’s way more complicated than a plant or an animal, and if it breaks off into your skin it could keep on growing. (And if you’re going snorkeling, use an organic sunscreen so the coral isn’t harmed.)