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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Trade winds to blow away hot and muggy conditions

 • Calculating how hot it feels

By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Staff Writer

The mercury only read 84 degrees, but at 11 a.m. yesterday the "RealFeel" temperature — a kind of wind-chill factor in reverse — was a sweltering 104.

Several days of muggy weather across the state is what everyone was talking about around the water cooler, but the good news is that relief may come as early as today with the return of tradewinds.

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."

Andy Nash, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the past weekend was certainly one of the stickiest.

"The humidity was as high as it gets in Hawai'i," he said. "The tradewinds also disappeared, which made things even more uncomfortable."

The disappearing trade winds were due to remnants of Tropical Storm Felicia, a low-pressure system to the north. The humidity was caused by hot, moist air blowing in from the south, Nash said.

Though temperatures weren't higher than normal, the conditions made it feel like a record-breaking high, Nash said.

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.

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

"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."

Joe Cuculich, division manager for Signature Theatres, said when the weather gets nasty, people love the movies. The number of movie-goers 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 just 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 Manoa. "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."

Local allergy/asthma specialist Dr. Jeffrey Kam said the humid weather kept him busy as patients poured into his office yesterday to refill their medications and ask for help. They complained of sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes, sore throat, chest congestion and post-nasal drip. Kam, who works at Straub Clinic, said it's typical that patients call and come in when the humidity soars and during Kona weather when the tradewinds disappear. For his patients with asthma, "they're starting to wheeze and cough more."

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."

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 those 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.

Advertiser Staff Writers Christie Wilson and Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.