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Warning-level surf on the way

January 22, 2014 - 8:09am

Another round of warning-level surf has its sights set on Hawaii Island’s west-facing shores.

Twelve- to 18-foot waves are forecast to roll in this afternoon along west-facing shores from Ka‘u to North Kohala, said Mike Cantin, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu. The largest waves can be expected along the North Kona coast in an area stretching from Kiholo Bay to about Kekaha Kai State Park, which includes surf and beach spots Mahaiula, Makalawena and Mininiowali, also known as Kua Bay.

“The waves will be big, so enjoy them from a distance,” Cantin told West Hawaii Today on Tuesday. “And, when there is a peak set, there will be bigger ones that sneak in.”

The high surf warning will remain in effect for the island’s west-facing shores through 6 a.m. Friday, Cantin said. The surf is expected to remain above the warning-level through Thursday night; the warning may be extended beyond Friday morning.

A high surf advisory has also been issued for the island’s north- and east-facing shores through 6 a.m. Friday, according to the weather service. Forecasters are calling for 15- to 20-foot waves from about Kaimu Beach Park in Puna to about Mahukona in North Kohala.

Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira said the county is monitoring the high surf event and will keep the community up-to-date on any beach or road closures via the civil defense website at and media broadcasts.

Residents along the coast and low-lying areas are advised to take precaution and boat owners are advised to secure vessels ahead of the high surf, Oliveira said. He also urged the community to heed all advice given by Civil Defense and Ocean Safety officials.

The warning- and advisory-level surf headed toward the island is being fueled by a giant northwest swell generated by a low-pressure system packing hurricane force winds — sustained winds of 74 mph or higher — located far to the northwest of the state, Cantin said. Winds near the low-pressure system, which have been at the hurricane level for at least 36 hours, are producing 50- to 60-foot open ocean waves.

“The waves spread out and blend into the swell, which is more powerful,” said Cantin about how the waves reach Hawaii’s shores. “And, they are coming our way.”

It is the same “giant” northwest swell forecast to bring 40- to 50-foot waves to Oahu’s North Shore, Kauai, Molokai and Maui, Cantin said. Despite the swell’s size, the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau was given a no-go this week because of an approaching front expected to bring some rain and onshore winds, which Cantin said can flatten waves, rendering them more dangerous to ride.

“It was just primed for the north shore,” Cantin said, noting the swell’s direction toward the shore would have amplified surf well.

While waves along the other islands’ north and west-facing shores are expected to be greater in height than an average four-story building, Hawaii Island will see waves nowhere near that height, Cantin said. That is because Hawaii Island will get the wrap-around effect as the swell moves across Hawaiian waters and around the islands.

“The waves (hitting Hawaii Island) are not quite as big as the open ocean waves because they’ve already lost some of their energy,” Cantin explained.

Though the energy may be waning by the time the waves reach Hawaii Island, Cantin said it does not mean that larger — “rogue” — waves can be ruled out.

“You can watch the ocean for 20 minutes and you may not see the biggest waves and think OK waves are breaking and only go up this far and venture out,” he said. “And, then that bigger wave comes and gets you.”

Cantin pointed to a stark reminder of just how one wave that was larger than expected can have a profound effect on life and the community: the July 2012 apparent death of New York teen Tyler Madoff, who was reportedly swept from the Kealakekua Bay shoreline by large waves.

“They were doing a similar thing,” he said, “just wandering out.”

Another northwest swell is expected to arrive this weekend, said Cantin.

In conjunction with the high surf advisory and warning in effect until 6 a.m. Friday, the National Weather Service in Honolulu also issued a marine weather statement for Hawaii Island leeward and windward waters cautioning of large breaking waves affecting entrances to harbors, including Honokohau and Hilo harbors. The service also cautioned of moderate surges within harbors.