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'Historic' storm hurls huge waves, 191-mph wind and snow at Hawaii

'Historic' storm hurls huge waves, 191-mph wind and snow at Hawaii
Snow on the ground in Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area in Kula, Hawaii, on the island of Maui. A strong storm that hit Hawaii knocked out power, brought down tree branches, flooded coastal roads and even brought snow. (Lance Endo / AP)

An extremely powerful winter storm is pulling away from Hawaii after unleashing damaging winds, massive waves, coastal flooding, and snow in unusual places.

The storm, which the National Weather Service office in Honolulu described as “historic,” first began pounding the islands Friday. Hawaii News Now reported a 66-year-old California man died in the rough surf off northwest Maui on Friday.

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“[Forecasters] are calling this an unprecedented event and we concur that we rarely if ever have seen the combination of record high on-shore waves, coupled with gale force winds,” said Sam Lemmo, administrator of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

The storm’s most extreme blow was generated on the Big Island’s towering peak of Mauna Kea where a 191-mph wind gust blasted the mountain summit at 4:40 p.m. local time Sunday.

“That’s the strongest wind gust I’ve ever seen up there,” said Jon Jelsema, senior forecaster at the Weather Service office in Honolulu. “We tend to get a gust maybe to 150 mph once a winter or so, but never 191 mph.”

The visitor station on the 13,308-foot mountain is closed until Tuesday “due to the predicted continuation of severe weather,” according to the station’s website. The road is shut down whenever visibility drops below 50 feet, or winds gust to 65 mph or greater.

Hawaii saw a mixed bag of bizarre precipitation over the weekend as well. Several inches of snow fell on Haleakalā, a shield volcano in East Maui -- something Jelsema describes as “very unusual.”

The storm even deposited a coating of snow at Kaui’s Polipoli State Park at an elevation of just 6,200 feet, according to Hawaii’s DLNR.

“[P]erhaps [for] the first time ever, snow has fallen in a Hawai’i State Park,” the DLNR posted to its Facebook page Sunday. “Polipoli State Park on Maui is blanketed with snow. It could also be the lowest elevation snow ever recorded in the state.”

In addition to the snow, a rare severe thunderstorm warning was issued for southern Kauai on Saturday night.

Wind gusts up to 67 mph were clocked in the oceanside town of Port Allen in Kaui. The community resides on the south side of the island, protected from the harshest conditions streaming in out of the northeast.

Wave heights approached 40 feet just north of the island on Sunday.

The National Weather Service had hoisted a high surf warning Thursday in anticipation of the event. It warned of “giant disorganized waves” that “could cause unprecedented coastal flooding Saturday night through Sunday.” Jelsema said his office had received numerous reports of road closures because of the coastal inundation.

“The sea state kind of looks like the water in a washing machine,” he said. “You have a mix of swell -- which is generated in many different areas of the Pacific -- combining with wind waves. One wave follows the next at pretty big intervals.”

Because of strong winds over the weekend, just over 2,400 customers across Hawaii were without power Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us. That’s down from a peak of nearly 27,000.

The harsh conditions will begin to subside late Monday. The wind advisory in effect for the Big Island expires at noon local time. A high wind warning remains in effect until 6 p.m. local time for the Big Island summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, where gusts may still top 140 mph before tapering down.

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