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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 13, 2001

It's all here: wind, rain, hail, snow

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The weather outside is frightful, especially on the slopes and summits of the Big Island and Maui.

High wind and seas yesterday brought in stinging Portuguese men-o-war, or pa'imalau, onto the eastern shores of Kaua'i yesterday.

Jan Tenbruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

By midday yesterday, the winter storm watch for those areas was upgraded to a warning, and the blustery weather, at Mauna Kea especially, had begun picking up power.

The National Weather Service also has issued a high-wind advisory and flood watch for Maui and the Big Island, and may later extend both to the whole state.

Forecasters were predicting that the low-pressure center east of the islands that is causing the storm would generate heavy rains around the state today and tomorrow.

But Maui and Hawai'i, the islands closest to the storm front, started feeling the effects by midday yesterday. Some rain pelted Maui and then cleared; freezing temperatures iced over the roads and the winds really kicked in on the Big Island summits, especially Mauna Kea.

"The winds are quite strong up there," said Roy Matsuda, lead forecaster for the weather service. "They were reported as much as 80 knots on Mauna Kea, and that would translate to about 90 mph."

Ron Koehler, general manager at the Hale Pohaku facility that houses observatory staffers and a visitor center, described conditions on the summit as "miserable, just miserable." The facility is about 4,000 feet downslope from the summit, where the large telescopes are perched.

"The winds alone would be severe, and on top of that the temperature is down to about 24 degrees and it's snowing, hailing, sleet, a variety of precipitation forms," he said.

Koehler said the road to the summit was frozen over and he didn't think anyone would be working last night.

"They couldn't clear the domes, the winds are too high and the ice wouldn't melt. So most of the domes are frozen shut," he said.

Koehler said the observatories are built to withstand severe weather conditions.

Matsuda said the Islands' lower elevations should experience increasing showers for the next two days; the storm center is expected to pass Hawai'i to the south and soak the whole chain.

"If Kaua'i lags in this," he said, "it wouldn't be by much."

As it was, Kaua'i lifeguards were warning people not to swim at most east-facing beaches, where surf was high and treacherous currents ripped along the shore. Some beaches were also being hit with fleets of Portuguese man-o-war, floating blue sea creatures with balloon-like floats and long tentacles that can inflict a painful sting to beachgoers, even after they have been washed up on the shore.

Staff writer Curtis Lum contributed to this report.