MAUI (WASHINGON POST) – An extremely powerful winter storm is pulling away from Hawaii after unleashing damaging winds, massive waves, coastal flooding, and snow in unusual places.
The storm, which the National Weather Service office in Honolulu described as “historic”, first began pounding the islands last Friday (Feb 8).
Hawaii News Now reported a 66-year old California man died in the rough surf off north-west Maui last Friday.
“(Forecasters) are calling this an unprecedented event and we concur that we rarely if ever have seen the combination of record high on-shore waves, coupled with gale force winds,” said Mr Sam Lemmo, administrator of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).
The storm’s most extreme blow was generated on the Big Island’s towering peak of Mauna Kea where a 307kmh wind gust blasted the mountain summit at 4.40pm local time on Sunday.
“That’s the strongest wind gust I’ve ever seen up there,” said Mr Jon Jelsema, senior forecaster at the Weather Service office in Honolulu. “We tend to get a gust maybe to 150mph (241kmh) once a winter or so, but never 191mph (307kmh).”
The visitor station on the 4,056m mountain is closed until Tuesday “due to the predicted continuation of severe weather”, according to the station’s website. The road is shut down whenever visibility drops below 15m, or winds gust to 105kmh or greater.
Hawaii saw a mixed bag of bizarre precipitation over the weekend as well. Several inches of snow fell on Haleakala, a shield volcano in East Maui – something Mr Jelsema describes as “very unusual”.
The storm even deposited a coating of snow at Kaui’s Polipoli State Park at an elevation of just 1,890m according to Hawaii’s DLNR.
“(P)erhaps (for) the first time ever, snow has fallen in a Hawai’i State Park,” the DLNR posted to its Facebook page on Sunday.
“Polipoli State Park on Maui is blanketed with snow. It could also be the lowest elevation snow ever recorded in the state.”
In addition to the snow, a rare severe thunderstorm warning was issued for southern Kauai last Saturday night.
Wind gusts up to 108kmh were clocked in the oceanside town of Port Allen in Kaui. The community resides on the south side of the island, protected from the harshest conditions streaming in out of the north-east.
Wave heights approached 12m just north of the island on Sunday.
The National Weather Service had hoisted a high surf warning last Thursday in anticipation of the event. It warned of “giant disorganised waves” that “could cause unprecedented coastal flooding Saturday night through Sunday”.
Mr Jelsema said his office had received numerous reports of road closures due to the coastal inundation.
“The sea state kind of looks like the water in a washing machine” he said. “You have a mix of swell – which is generated in many different areas of the Pacific – combining with wind waves. One wave follows the next at pretty big intervals.”
Due to strong winds over the weekend, just over 2,400 customers across Hawaii were without power on Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. That is down from a peak of nearly 27,000.
The harsh conditions will begin to subside late on Monday. The wind advisory in effect for the Big Island expires at noon local time. A high wind warning remains in effect until 6pm local time for the Big Island summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where gusts may still top 225kmh before tapering down.
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