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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 10:47 a.m., Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Relief from humidity here with return of trade winds

By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Staff Writer

General contractor Chris Emerson switched off the air conditioning last night when the trade winds at last sent breezes through his Kane‘ohe home, signaling a break in days of sweltering heat and humidity.

And today offered the first respite from work conditions in which he said “you can hardly move without breaking a sweat.”

“The workers are greatly relieved,” Emerson added.

So are most residents across the state, where several days of muggy weather had been fueled by remnants of Tropical Storm Felicia to the north.

That low-pressure system is shuffling off toward Alaska now, said Tim Craig, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service.

“That has let the door open for the high pressure to come in from the east, and that’s driving the trades,” Craig said. “You’ll see through the day that they’ll actually pick up and be rather brisk, 10 to 25 miles per hour.”

The weather service’s O‘ahu forecast for the next few days is for not much change in the temperature — highs in the mid to upper 80s — but this morning the humidity averaged about 75 percent, which is at least 15 percent lower than it’s been, Craig said.

Residents can expect some isolated showers all week, but Craig said this morning that there are no major weather systems posing new threats.

The departing Felicia’s outer reaches had produced high humidity through yesterday, and a RealFeel temperature — a kind of wind-chill factor in reverse — of 104.

AccuWeather, a commercial forecasting service, uses a formula called RealFeel to calculate what the outside temperature actually feels like. The formula includes temperature, dew point, relative humidity, wind speed and sky cover.

High humidity over the weekend sent people scrambling to find somewhere — anywhere — drier and cooler than the stifling outdoors.

Fans flew off the shelves at local hardware stores and sweaty, overheated residents flocked to movie theaters, shopping malls, restaurants and any other enclosed air-conditioned space, seeking blessed relief from weather more like the Amazon rain forest than breezy, blue Hawai‘i.

Justin Taylor hung out in his car.

“I got in my car and just drove — with the AC on full blast. I thought about where I could go that was cool and comfortable, and my car was my best bet,” said the 23-year-old construction worker from Kailua. “I drove around the island and never got out of the car.”

The past few days reminded residents of how dependent they are on the trade winds.

“You forget how hot it can get when the breeze stops — it's miserable,” said Donna Tran of ‘Ewa Beach. “ ‘Ewa is hot with a breeze. Take that away and it’s unbearable. It was like being in Vietnam, not Hawai‘i. Thank God it’s not always this bad.”

The state’s hottest temperatures were recorded on Maui. On Saturday, the temperature was 90 degrees, and it was a steamy 93 degrees on Sunday. Yesterday wasn’t much better at 92 degrees.

Heavy use of air conditioners and fans likely drove power consumption to daytime peak records at Maui Electric Co., according to spokeswoman Joanne Ide.

The daytime peak hit a new all-time high Friday of 184.1 megawatts, she said. That record was smashed yesterday with demand reaching 191.2 megawatts — still well within production capacity.

“With the heat and humidity, people are cranking up their air conditioners,” Ide said. “It’s not just the residential users, but the businesses, too.”

Air conditioners were a hot item at Hamai Appliance in Kahului during the weekend, according to salesperson Ruby Salmo. The muggy weather coincided with a special sale that ended Saturday. “We sold a lot of air conditioners. It was perfect timing,” Salmo said.

Home Depot in Pearl City saw a 74 percent increase in fan sales last weekend over the same weekend last year, said assistant manager Mark Antony.

“On an average weekend we sell between 30 and 40 fans,” Antony said. “Last weekend we sold 105.”

On Friday, Mary Price bought a new fan and still couldn’t bear the heat. “A hundred fans wouldn’t have helped” cool her Kane‘ohe home, she said.

“We stayed out all day on Saturday,” Price said. “We went shopping, where the stores are nice and cold and then we saw two movies, one right after the other. It felt too good to go home.”

Dr. Lisa Hendrickson, of the state health department, said hyperthermia (high body temperature) is worrisome, especially in the elderly, among people who are more sedate and who take heart and blood pressure medications.

And she noted that people who are outside a lot and drinking beer or other alcohol can also dehydrate and risk heat exhaustion. “Alcohol and caffeine definitely contribute,” she said.

Local allergy/asthma specialist Dr. Jeffrey Kam said the humid weather kept him busy as patients poured into his office yesterday to refill medications and ask for help.

What to do? Kam said make sure you’re taking your medication, drink plenty of fluids — “water would be the best” — and try to stay indoors with air conditioning “or go to the mall.”

Joe Cuculich, division manager for Signature Theatres, said that when the weather gets nasty, people love the movies. The number of moviegoers at Pearl Highlands Signature Theatres last weekend was up 5 percent from previous weekends, said Cuculich.

But not everyone was willing to brave the crowds to beat the heat.

“I sat in the house, in front of the fan and didn’t do a thing,” said Mary Ishida, a retiree from MÅnoa. “You can’t do anything when it’s like that — takes too much energy. You have to just wait for the breeze to come back.”

Advertiser Staff Writer Vicki Viotti contributed to this report.