Extreme Hawaii Weather Research Needs Focus On Hawaii Flight Calamities

Extraordinary weather, UH Hawaii weather research, and two recent airline incidents with catastrophic potential. What do these have in common? We are about to learn a lot more about this.

We’re glad there seems to be a passion for a better understanding of fast-changing, severe Hawaii weather. This has led to groundbreaking studies on topics near and dear to all of us. But to date, is hasn’t focused on storm-vulnerable Hawaii aviation.

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Among other things, Philanthropist Jonathan Merage is funding research designed, in this case, to “help meteorologists better understand the structures and processes of destructive supercell thunderstorms.” Merage began a long-term partnership with the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology years ago to learn how long-range lightning data can potentially improve storm forecasting. So far, Merage has given more than $800K in that effort.

Their latest research, “The anatomy of a series of cloud bursts that eclipsed the U.S. rainfall record,” is about Hawaii weather events. It was published in April 2022’s Monthly Weather Review. UH said, “It detailed the essential role of steep mountainous terrain in producing a series of supercell thunderstorms that stalled out over Kauai in April 2018.”

Weather correlation with these Hawaii flight incidents is in focus.

No one, including UH Manoa and The National Weather Service, has stated any precise correlation between December 2022’s extreme weather and yesterday’s report of the United Airlines near disaster departing Maui. That is, however, now starting to be discussed on Twitter, with one aviation expert questioning if the pilots had been advised of the circumstances. Honestly, you would have needed to be flying with your eyes closed not to see how extreme the weather was precisely at the time of the departure.

Regarding the weather just before United Airlines’ near-disaster, frequent commenter Eldo on Maui said, “I decided to drive down to VOR Beach… at the western boundary of the main runway in Maui. The weather was horrendous. My car was rocking in the wind gusts, the rain was horizontal. I was surprised at how many jets were still taking off and landing, although I could see on my Flightradar24 app that several flights, after circling above for approximately 30 minutes, diverted to Big Island. Who decides when it’s safe to fly?

Would a flight delay have been a better solution?

We know that we were guilty of fatigue regarding Hawaii flight delays. Yet, we can’t help but wonder if the UAL Maui to San Francisco flight would have been better served by not departing when it did. Going forward, we, at least, will have a new attitude when it comes to patience related to weather-related flight delays.

Hawaii weather research following US-record-breaking rainfall.

Kauai Flooding at Hanalei

The weather in Hawaii is becoming more intense. The April 2018 event here on Kauai, pictured above, resulted in massive torrential rain, flooding, thunder, and lightning, the likes of which we have never experienced. The once-in-a-lifetime catastrophic event caused up to 50 inches of rain to fall within 24 hours on Kauai’s North Shore. There was massive damage and flooding. The highway was first entirely, then partially closed for years. Major repairs were required after the road was destroyed when the hillside at Princeville slid down to Hanalei, resulting in the north shore being cut off from the rest of the island.

Research to predict the most dangerous storms now needs an aviation focus.

It appears that the terrain in Hawaii can turn “strong, shifting horizontal winds (wind shear) into the vertical direction–triggering thunderstorms with rotating updrafts or mesocyclones in the process.” That, according to UH.

There’s no indication at this time that this specific type of weather impacted either the Hawaiian Airlines event or the United Airlines event in December 2022. We can say, on the other hand, that the weather at the time of these incidents was extreme.

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