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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Record rainfall slams O'ahu

Graphic: Sudden storm over Islands
 •  Airport records its wettest June 5

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

The rare summer thunderstorm that filled Hawai'i skies with lightning and smashed rainfall records with a traffic-jamming O'ahu downpour yesterday could repeat at any time through tomorrow, the National Weather Service said last night.

Miles Takiguchi's car stalled on Kapahu Street near 'Auwaiolimu Street in the Punchbowl area during yesterday's downpour.

Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Almost an inch of rain fell at Honolulu International Airport in the 24 hours ending at 8 p.m., nearly 50 times the normal amount of .02 inches for the date, obliterating the old .23-inch record set from midnight to midnight June 5, 1970.

Weather service radar aimed at the heaviest storm centers calculated three to four inches of rain fell in just three hours ending at 4:12 p.m. in the area between Fort Shafter and Manoa, with peak deluges of four to six inches in the Ko'olau north of Manoa and an area southwest of Tantalus between Manoa and Kalihi.

The storm may have been a factor in the death of a 50-year-old woman who was killed at 2:45 p.m. after her Wahiawa-bound sedan crossed the landscaped divider on the rainy H-2 Freeway just past the Mililani exit and hit an oncoming van, injuring the male driver, police said.

The downpour flooded freeways and streets; triggered brief power failures for 3,700 Hawaiian Electric customers in Pauoa and Salt Lake; trapped a Papakolea man in his car; and sent rivers of mud onto H-1 Freeway lanes at Liliha Street overpass.

"We fully expect this could happen again," lead forecaster Jeff Powell said. "All the ingredients are still there."

And there could be little warning.

From roads into rivers

Yesterday's storms formed where they hit, "in two separate trains of thunderstorm cells, a small one over West Moloka'i and another over O'ahu," said Powell. "We are in a brief respite. This system seems to be pulsing. It all dies, and everything takes a breather."

With the ground soaked, more thundershowers could cause worse flooding.

Thousands of motorists came to a soggy halt in roadways turned into streams, and commuters reported taking 1 1/2 hours to travel two miles from the Ala Moana Center to the Pali Highway .

Rain funneled into a storm drain on School Street near the Liliha Street overpass and roared down an embankment to the H-1 Freeway. Along with the water came mud and small rocks that covered the westbound right lane of the freeway.

Police closed all but the left-most lane for westbound traffic on the freeway near the overpass about 2:30 p.m. A state road crew began the slow task of shoveling the mud off the road about an hour later, but by then traffic on H-1 and School Street was backed up for miles.

A sports car is nearly hidden by a spray of water as it takes the Vineyard Street exit off the H-1 Freeway.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Traffic on H-2 was also at a standstill because of the investigation into the fatal two-vehicle collision. Lt. Bennett Martin of the Honolulu Police Department's Vehicular Homicide Division said the accident may have been weather-related. The injured driver was taken to an area hospital for treatment.

The investigation closed H-2 townbound, and traffic slowed to a crawl in opposite lanes. Rush-hour traffic was slowed further by a minor accident that narrowed the outbound H-2 to one lane. At 5 p.m., traffic was backed up at least a mile.

In Kaka'ako, Kona Street flooded about 1 p.m. yesterday, as it usually does in a downpour, with water reaching the floorboards of cars, which in turn sent waves washing into nearby auto repair shops.

The rain and flooding will mean a mini-boom in business, said Delna Kinoshita, who owns United Auto Body Repair with her husband, Jon.

"People don't slow down in the rain and that causes crashes," she said.

At the Liliha Foodland Super Market, a security guard made a curious find. A crayfish had somehow made its way to a sidewalk just outside the store.

The guard said she didn't know how the crayfish got to the store, but she figured it had something to do with the rain. The guard put it in a paper cup and carried it to the Nu'uanu Stream, where she released it.

Stuck in the water

In Papakolea, behind the slopes of Punchbowl, Miles Takiguchi tried to negotiate a dip in the road on Kapahu Street just off of 'Auwaiolimu Street but stalled in three feet of water. Takiguchi was trapped temporarily, and the fire department pushed his car out.

Lightning struck some Hawaiian Electric equipment, with at least one brief transformer fireball reported. About 3,000 customers lost power for an hour and 42 minutes in Pauoa, and 700 more were without electricity for almost three hours in Salt Lake.

Heavy rain accompanied by thunder blanketed Kane'ohe at about 1:30 p.m., turning streets into streams. The pool at Kane'ohe District Park closed about 2 p.m. because of the thunder and lightning.

Hawai'i averages only 10 thunderstorms a year, most of them in winter, and many over distant mountain peaks. There are 100,000 thunderstorms a year in the United States, according to the National Weather Service.

A low-pressure area hovering above 20,000 feet altitude north of the islands generated towering thunderclouds over O'ahu and Moloka'i just before 2 p.m.

Recording the rainfall

The storms over O'ahu missed many of the rain gauges scattered across the island, but the unusual date, location and size of the downpour was caught at Honolulu International Airport, the official rainfall measuring point and one of the drier places on the island.

During the 24-hour period ending at 8 p.m. last night, the airport recorded .99 inches of rain. The day also stood to become the second wettest June day ever recorded at the airport. The wettest June day on record since measurements began in 1946 was two inches on June 30, 1967.

Rain gauges have measured 2.91 inches so far this year at the dry airport area, and 47.73 inches this year in wet Manoa Valley.

Advertiser staff writers Dan Nakaso, Curtis Lum, James Gonser and Eloise Aguiar contributed to this report.

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