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Capital Weather Gang

‘Historic’ storm hurls huge waves and 191-mph winds at Hawaii; rare snow hits Maui

Snow may have fallen at the lowest elevation ever observed in the state.

February 11, 2019 at 11:46 AM

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A winter storm that began over the weekend continues to hit Hawaii, bringing powerful winds and waves, coastal flooding and even snow. (Blair Guild /The Washington 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,” began pounding the islands Friday. Hawaii News Now reported a 66-year-old California man died in the rough surf off northwest Maui on Friday.

Forecasters “are calling this an unprecedented event and we concur that we rarely if ever have seen the combination of record high onshore waves, coupled with gale force winds,” said 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 191-mph wind gust blasted the mountain summit at 4:40 p.m. local time Sunday.

“That’s the strongest wind gust I’ve ever seen up there,” said Jon Jelsema, senior forecaster at the Weather Service office in Honolulu. “We tend to get a gust maybe to 150 mph once a winter or so, but never 191 mph.”

The visitor station on the 13,308-foot 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 50 feet, or winds gust to 65 mph or greater.

Hawaii saw a mixed bag of bizarre precipitation over the weekend. Several inches of snow fell on Haleakalā, a shield volcano in East Maui — something Jelsema described as “very unusual.”

Snow is much more common on the high peaks of the Big Island, at Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

The storm even deposited a coating of snow at Maui’s Polipoli State Park at an elevation of 6,200 feet according to Hawaii’s DLNR.

“Perhaps the first time ever, snow has fallen in a Hawai‘i State Park,” the DLNR posted to its Facebook page Sunday. “Polipoli State Park on Maui is blanketed with snow. It could also be the lowest elevation snow ever recorded in the state.”

The vigorous storm triggered rare severe thunderstorm warning for southern Kauai Saturday night.

Wind gusts up to 67 mph were clocked in the oceanside town of Port Allen in Kauai. The community is on the south side of the island, protected from the harshest conditions streaming in out of the northeast.

Wave heights approached 40 feet just north of Kauai on Sunday.

The National Weather Service had hoisted a high surf warning Thursday in anticipation of the event. It warned of “giant disorganized waves” that “could cause unprecedented coastal flooding Saturday night through Sunday.” 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.”

Because of strong winds over the weekend, more than 2,400 customers across Hawaii were without power Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. That’s down from a peak of nearly 27,000.

The harsh conditions will begin to subside late Monday. The wind advisory in effect for the Big Island expires at noon local time. A high wind warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. local for the Big Island summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where gusts may still top 140 mph before tapering down.

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Simulation of storm battering Hawaii on Feb. 10. (VentuSky.com)

Jason Samenow is The Washington Post’s weather editor and Capital Weather Gang's chief meteorologist. He earned a master's degree in atmospheric science and spent 10 years as a climate change science analyst for the U.S. government. He holds the Digital Seal of Approval from the National Weather Association.

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