Case Detail: Most of the storms we hear about have English names, but some of the biggest ones to hit Hawaii have had Hawaiian names. Why is that? What is the list of Hawaiian storm names?

Traditionally, hurricanes (or tropical cyclones) are given names from a set list in alphabetical sequence. These lists usually change every year, and are different depending on region (for example, Arlene, Bret, Cindy, and Dennis start the 2005 list for the Atlantic). More importantly, names that are given to storms when they first form stay with them, even if they cross into another region.

Most of the storms that catch the eye of weather watchers in Hawaii actually form in the Eastern Pacific, then move toward the islands. This region is monitored by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, and that’s where those names come from. So some of the major storms to threaten Hawaii in the summer of 2005 have been named Jova, Kenneth, Lidia and Max.

For a storm to receive a Hawaiian name, it must form in the Central North Pacific region, where it will be monitored and named by the Central Pacific Hurricane Center. This region — between 180 and 140 degrees west — is actually relatively quiet. On average, only two or three storms form there a year. But, when they do develop, they are much more immediate threats to Hawaii. These storms are given Hawaiian names from the following four lists of twelve names:

List 1

  • Akoni
  • Ema
  • Hone
  • Iona
  • Keli
  • Lala
  • Moke
  • Nolo
  • Olana
  • Pena
  • Ulana
  • Wale

List 2

  • Aka
  • Ekeka
  • Hene
  • Iolana
  • Keoni
  • Lino
  • Mele
  • Nona
  • Oliwa
  • Pama
  • Upana
  • Wene

List 3

  • Alika
  • Ele
  • Huko
  • Iopa
  • Kika
  • Lana
  • Maka
  • Neki
  • Omeka
  • Pewa
  • Unala
  • Wali

List 4

  • Ana
  • Ela
  • Halola
  • Iune
  • Kilo
  • Loke
  • Malia
  • Niala
  • Oho
  • Pali
  • Ulika
  • Walaka

Note that unlike other storm lists, which change and reset back to “A” every year, the Central North Pacific name lists continue, indefinitely, across years. When the bottom of one list is reached, the next list is used, meaning that 48 storms must pass before a name is reused. The above lists are much shorter than those for other regions because of the shorter Hawaiian alphabet.

Just like with other storm lists, when a major storm strikes, its name is often retired. This happened with Hurricane Iwa in 1982 and Hurricane Iniki in 1992, and their names have been replaced with Io and Iolana.

Interestingly, while some Hawaiian names were given to storms in decades past (Hiki in 1950 and Kanoa in 1957) the Hawaiian name list has only been in official use since the early 1980s. And it was during the first year that any Hawaiian names were given to storms (Akoni, Ema, and Hana) in 1982 that the first major Hawaiian named storm struck (Iwa).

Source: Pacific Tropical Cyclone Names (National Weather Service)