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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 26, 2004

Central O'ahu residents see twister take form

By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer

A weather phenomenon rare in Hawai'i showed up and touched down in Central O'ahu yesterday afternoon when a tornado the length of four football fields kicked up red dirt and scattered rocks for four furious minutes.

An Air Force officer witnessed and photographed a tornado taking shape and then touching down in a pineapple field near Kunia Road in Central O'ahu yesterday. Other residents also saw funnel clouds spiraling over the area.

Joe Mecadon • Special to The Advertiser

Maj. Joe Mecadon, a 47-year-old Air Force officer, witnessed it from start to finish. Mecadon said he saw the tornado begin to take shape as a funnel cloud at about 1:35 p.m., approximately one mile northwest of Royal Kunia.

"It wasn't like a powerful Texas twister, but it touched down in some pineapple fields near Kunia Road," said Mecadon, a former Texas resident who grabbed his camera the moment the tornado started to form.

Mecadon said the tornado connected to the ground from its cloud base for about four minutes. He estimated the tornado was between 1,000 feet and 1,400 feet in length.

Koreen Tanjuakio, a 31-year-old Coca-Cola marketing manager, was driving with her fiance through the Waipahu area at the time of the twister and said she could see the tornado forming "from the H-1."

"It was as wide as our car," said Tanjuakio, who drives a Nissan Maxima.

There were also heavy, scattered showers over O'ahu yesterday, and a flash flood watch was in effect until 4 a.m. today.

At 9:55 last night, the watch was upgraded to a warning for Windward and Central O'ahu until 1 a.m. Police closed Kamehameha Highway in Waikane Valley at about 7:30 p.m. after heavy rains caused flooding. Some lanes were reopened by 10 p.m., but the ground was heavily saturated and police expected additional closings would be necessary.

Today's forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, scattered showers and isolated thunderstorms.

The National Weather Service said it received one unconfirmed report of a tornado touching down in Central O'ahu yesterday and reports of almost a dozen funnel clouds forming in the same area.

Forecaster Ray Tanabe said it is difficult to pin an exact number on the funnel cloud sightings.

"It's an unstable atmosphere. There is a lot of moisture, and it's ripe for thunderstorms," Tanabe said. "The cold air upper atmosphere and warm air lower atmosphere are perfect for thunderstorms and clouds. The warm air wants to rise and the cold air wants to sink."

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a funnel cloud is a rotating, cone-shaped column of air extending downward from the base of a thunderstorm or wall cloud but not in contact with the ground. A funnel cloud becomes a tornado when it touches the ground.

Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Emmit Kane said last night that the only weather-related incident reported on O'ahu yesterday was a blown roof in 'Ewa Beach.

On the Big Island yesterday, Civil Defense administrator Troy Kindred said there was some flooding and road closures after as much as 5 inches of rain fell in the Hilo area during a major storm.

He said some parts of Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo were closed by flooding. Highway 11 was closed between the 15- and 17-mile markers near Peck Road because of big trees that fell across power lines, Kindred said. He said a thunderstorm with heavy lightning downed the trees at about 4:40 p.m.

Kindred said he had received no reports of injuries or damage to homes. However, he said he expected reports of home damage to be coming in today because of the heavy rain and lightning strikes.

At 10 p.m., Hawaii Electric Light Co. said that lightning strikes in the Puna and Hilo areas shortly after 3 p.m. had caused service interruptions to 33,500 people.

Staff Writer Karen Blakeman contributed to this report. Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com.