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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 9, 2002

Tornadoes rare visitor to state

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

The e-mail from Sharon Pomroy had a most stunning opening line:

"Just before 3 p.m. on Sunday, the 24th of March, 2002 the village of Anahola was struck by a tornado!"

Pomroy described what happened in captivating detail as the whirling wind hopped across the landscape:

"I saw it strike one home and leap across Hokualele Road and take off roofs and walls on several of the homes and sheds there. It then moved further north over what is mostly vacant land. Here, there were many large pools of water, which the tornado would drink up like it was a Diet Coke! Each time it consumed a pool or puddle the funnel cloud would get darker and darker.

"The most incredible sight was seeing the banana trees, along with all the other debris, literally 'rain' from the cloud. Along with the crashing banana trees came every other sort of things one keeps around outside their home. Patio furniture, 5 gallon buckets, fence poles, black shade cloth from many of the farms here too, and chickens flapping their way back to the ground as they fell from the cloud more than a hundred feet in the air."

Wild stuff, but could it really be a tornado? In Hawai'i?

"It's indisputable ... it was definitely a tornado," said Tom Heffner, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service on O'ahu. On that day, there was a severe thunderstorm warning issued by the National Weather Service for Kaua'i. In rare occurrences, Heffner explained, organized thunderstorm cells can give rise to tornadoes, which are different from the weak water spouts that touch land and dissipate quickly.

This particular tornado may have formed over water. There are reports from the Kaua'i bureau of the National Weather Service that people called in that day saying they saw a funnel cloud over the ocean on the east side of Kaua'i.

Bottom line is, it's rare, but it happens.

"We do have documentation, up until this one, of 18 reported tornadoes in Hawai'i since 1959," Heffner said.

In January 1971, for example, a strong cold front swept over the state, creating thunderstorms. Two tornadoes were reported in Central O'ahu near Whitmore Village. A tornado generated by the same system came ashore in Kailua, Kona and did quite a bit of damage. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Mark Marshall, Kaua'i County Civil Defense administrator, said the Anahola tornado didn't cause enough damage to trigger emergency assistance or tax breaks for catastrophic loss.

"Apparently, the most damage was to a greenhouse, that it was fairly well leveled," Marshall said, adding there were also reports of roof damage, mostly minor. No injuries were reported.

That, though, does not take into account the chickens.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.