Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Severe Storms Impact the Eastern US as Wildfires Force Evacuations Across Hawaii


Across the United States (US), many areas experienced extreme weather from August 5 to August 8, as multiple severe storm systems delivered widespread thunderstorms, resulting in injuries and fatalities in addition to flight delays and cancelations, power outages, and property damage. Over the four days leading up to August 8, various regions across the US, including the Northeast, Midwest, and Mountain West, experienced at least 27 confirmed tornadoes. According to the National Weather Service’s (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC), August 7 saw the second-highest number of storm reports so far in 2023, with over 700 combined tornado, wind, and hail reports.

Twitter: NWS Eastern Region

On August 7, a bow echo – a bow-shaped band of rain showers or thunderstorms associated with strong straight-line winds and tornadoes – traveled inland from New Jersey and across states from New York to Georgia. According to local officials, this storm system caused one fatality in Florence, Alabama, as a result of a lightning strike and one fatality in Anderson, South Carolina, as a result of a fallen tree. Additionally, in Westminster, Maryland, over 40 people were trapped inside their vehicles due to downed power lines on a major highway. The storms’ impacts left over 37,000 customers in Maryland without power into Tuesday, August 8, according to poweroutage.us.

Also, a severe weather outbreak on August 8 produced thunderstorms, near-hurricane-force wind gusts, hail, flash flooding, and tornadoes in many Eastern US regions. The NWS confirmed that several tornadoes ranging from an Enhanced Fujita (EF)-1 to an EF-3 touched down in various areas of New York. According to the NWS, two tornadoes also touched down in Barnstable and Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, receiving respective EF-0 and EF-1 ratings. Storms continued to impact the Northeast into August 9, as more than 75,000 people, mostly located in Pennsylvania and Maryland, are still without power.

Hawaii Wildfires

Additionally, several large wildfires across Hawaii’s Maui and Big Island communities have prompted widespread power outages and mandatory evacuation orders. In West Maui, emergency responders conducted multiple rescues off the coast of the historic town of Lahaina, where numerous people sought refuge in the ocean to escape the smoke and flames. According to the NWS, the fires’ rapid spread has been fueled in part by strong wind gusts from Hurricane Dora, a Category (Cat) 4 hurricane that was located roughly 740 miles southwest of Honolulu as of early Wednesday, August 9.

Twitter: NOAA Satellites

In Maui County, the hurricane-force winds have also led to multiple downed power lines, causing power outages for more than 15,000 residents and disconnecting the community’s landlines and 911 emergency call service. Due to the strong winds, emergency responders have been unable to utilize helicopters and provide aircraft support to help contain the fires. According to Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen Jr., at least six fatalities have been confirmed as a result of the fires as of August 9.

On August 8, Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor Sylvia Luke issued an emergency proclamation in response to the fires and activated the State’s National Guard to provide assistance to those impacted in Maui and Hawaii Counties. While all of the Hawaiian islands are currently under red flag warnings or are facing climate conditions that produce increased fire risks, the NWS forecasts high winds to weaken by Thursday, August 10, as Hurricane Dora continues westward and away from the Islands.

12 Ways to Prepare Before a Disaster Happens: Ready.gov

It is critical to stay informed about weather emergencies to receive the most up-to-date guidance and instructions on how to stay safe. The NOAA NWS website provides the latest warnings by type of weather emergency and location. Additional ways to stay updated during emergencies are through real-time notifications available via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Mobile App; enabling Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on your phone; NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts; and signing up to receive alerts from your local emergency management office.

Severe weather can happen at any time, without much advance notice, and in any part of the country. FEMA encourages individuals to identify the most common disasters that might impact their area and to make and practice a Family Emergency Plan. During a severe weather event, be ready to evacuate or shelter in place per the real-time guidance emergency officials provide. Emergencies can be unpredictable, and instructions for how to stay safe can change. If you are instructed to shelter in place due to a tornado warning, follow FEMA guidance, including:

  • Seek shelter in a safe room, basement, or storm cellar. If you do not have these options, seek refuge in a small interior room on the lowest level possible and stay away from windows, exterior doors, and outside walls.
  • If you are outside, try to find shelter in a sturdy building, if possible.
  • If this is not possible, you are most safe in a low, flat location. Do not get under an overpass or bridge.
  • Beware of flying debris, and use your arms to protect your head and neck.

Some emergencies, like wildfire events, necessitate evacuations from the area either in advance or immediately. It is essential to adhere to evacuation orders right away, as well as to follow additional guidance to stay safe, including:

  • Follow your planned evacuation routes or the alternate instructions provided by local officials.
  • Find open Red Cross shelters, if necessary.
  • Take your preassembled disaster supplies kit.
  • If time allows, notify family members of where you are going, secure your home, and check in with neighbors who may need assistance.