Monday, April 30, 2018

Catastrophic Rainfall in Kauai

Unbelievable numbers:
Since the 1940s, the Hawaiian island of Kauai has endured two tsunamis and two hurricanes, but locals say they have never experienced anything like the thunderstorm that drenched the island this month.

"The rain gauge in Hanalei broke at 28 inches within 24 hours," said state Rep. Nadine Nakamura of the North Shore community. "In a neighboring valley, their rain gauge showed 44 inches within 24 hours. It's off the charts."

Actually, it was even worse. This week the National Weather Service said nearly 50 inches of rain fell in 24 hours.

Now, as Kauai continues to recover, scientists warn that this deluge on April 14 and 15 was something new — the first major storm in Hawaii linked to climate change.

"The flooding on Kauai is consistent with an extreme rainfall that comes with a warmer atmosphere," said Chip Fletcher, a leading expert on the impact of climate change on Pacific island communities.

He noted that the intense rainfall not only triggered landslides, it also caused the Hanalei River to flood and carve a new path through Hanalei. Homes, cars and animals were swept away in raging waters, but no residents or visitors died. Some were airlifted to safety or rescued by boat.

Members of a bison herd were displaced or carried off by floodwaters, and some were rescued from the ocean after swimming for their lives. "Poor buffalo," said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, who saw video and photos of the animals roaming around businesses and neighborhoods.

The picturesque North Shore communities of Wainiha and Haena are considered the hardest-hit because the only road that leads to them, Kuhio Highway, is now blocked by landslides. Officials say it may not fully reopen for months.

...For about a week after the storm, the normally aquamarine ocean around the island was an eerie orange — a sign of the volcanic soil. The more iron in the lava, the more orange the soil, said Dolan Eversole, a coastal geologist with the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program.

Since Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, the mountains are exceptionally steep and the distance between the mountaintops, where it rained, and the sea is relatively short. There was no time for the red-orange clay to settle as water raced out to sea, he said.

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