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Hawaii storm sets rainfall records


The storm that pummeled East Hawaii this week was one for the record books.

In addition to producing some unusual weather, including hail in Puna and a microburst of wind that carried a roof three doors down in Hilo, the storm also set a new bar for rainfall on Monday.

The Hilo International Airport recorded 7.51 inches of rain within 24 hours, easily beating the previous record for Dec. 30 set in 1951. That record was 4.58 inches.

But even that pales in comparison to other rainfall totals.

In Waiakea Uka, 20.46 inches of rain was recorded between 10 a.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Tuesday, making it the most drenched part of the island during the storm, according to the National Weather Service.

Big Island Dairy in Ookala was the runner-up with 19.70 inches recorded during that time period.

The Hilo airport recorded 11.18 inches during the entire storm.

Weather service meteorologist Mike Cantin said other recording stations were likely too new to offer records to break. Typically, records are set once measurements are taken consistently for 30 years or more, he said.

The storm also flooded numerous houses Monday and turned some roads into rivers.

Darryl Oliveira, Hawaii County Civil Defense administrator, said the county received about 40 requests for sand bags and had delivered more than 300 by Tuesday afternoon.

Hilo resident Richard Grothmann said his family had to work quickly to move their dogs to higher ground as their yard became covered in approximately 5 inches of water Monday evening.

“We were just scrambling,” he said. “We were trying not to panic.”

The water also seeped into their home, saturating their carpet.

Grothmann said all of the flooring will have to be replaced.

In addition to landslides along Highway 19, the storm washed a vehicle into a ditch in Hilo and caused a sinkhole near Paauilo that swallowed a truck. No injuries were reported in either incident.

The sinkhole developed on Pohakea Mauka Road on Monday morning and has grown since.

Approximately 50 residents remain isolated as a result. Oliveira said county departments are working to find an alternate route.

Initially, the Fire Department hoped to open a private road to residents but that was also washed out because of the storm, he said.

Gerald Kosaki, special operations battalion chief with the Fire Department, said a pasture road may be accessible for residents.

“We’re going to utilize our chopper to look for other access areas” as well, he said.

Kosaki said the Fire Department hasn’t received any emergency calls from residents beyond the hole, but crews did help one person get around it to make a doctor’s appointment.

Dolores Ramos, Paauilo Mauka Kalopa Community Association president, said there is enough room for residents to walk single file past it. Some are using cars parked on the other side of the hole to get down the road, she said.

“They are able to use it,” Ramos said. “I don’t know how much longer because the water keeps tearing at it.”

“They are making the most of it,” she added.

While bringing plenty of rain, lightning and thunder, the storm appeared to lack wind for the most part.

That wasn’t the case for one Hilo home, which had a large chunk of its roof ripped off during an event meteorologists are calling a microburst.

The roof was taken off with enough force to apparently carry it over utility poles and drop it three houses down on top of a vehicle.

The roof landed outside the Hoopuni Street home of Raymond Kawamodo, who said he didn’t notice any wind at the time.

“All we heard was the crash,” he said.

Cantin said the gust that apparently removed the roof was likely the result of erratic winds.

It would have been a “very narrow band” since it appeared to be an isolated incident, he said.

But it would be inaccurate to call it a mini-tornado, Cantin said.

“In this case, it was more likely a burst of wind that came ashore,” he said.

Roughly 200 to 500 Hawaii Electric Light Co. customers lost power because of the storm, said operations supervisor Tony Sianez.

Power appeared to have been restored to all of them by Tuesday afternoon.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.