Friday | April 17, 2015
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Winter storm brings early white Christmas, rain to the Big Island

It might have come a week too early for some, but atop Mauna Kea on Thursday morning one could find a beautiful, albeit short-lived, white Christmas.

“We did receive a little bit of a dusting,” said Ranger Joel Kelley with the Office of Mauna Kea Management in a phone interview about 9:10 a.m. “It’s melting pretty rapidly, though. We probably got an inch or two.”

Kelley said rangers plowed and reopened the summit road by 9 a.m. By afternoon, the snow had melted.

“But, of course, we have to reserve the right to close it again, depending on how the weather plays out today (Thursday).”

In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Stephanie Nagata, director of the Office of Mauna Kea Management, said while residents are allowed to drive to the summit to sightsee if the roads are cleared and deemed safe to drive by mountain rangers, she advised against it.

“We understand that the snow is quite attractive, but people need to be very cautious about going up there,” she said. “The weather could turn bad and conditions could turn hazardous. They need to have four-wheel drive, and they need to know how to drive the mountain. When they put snow in the backs of their cars, it just adds weight to their vehicle making it less safe, so they really need four-wheel drive outfitted with a low range as they descend.”

People who want to check and see if the summit road is open may call (808) 935-6268.

While the weather in East Hawaii might have looked sunny and bright early Thursday morning, that was a situation preparing to change dramatically, said National Weather Service Hydrologist Kevin Kodama in a phone interview from Honolulu.

A winter storm warning and flash flood watch remained in effect through this morning, with thunderstorms and heavy rain possible.

“It may look good (Thursday) morning, but it’s going to start looking pretty dark out,” he said. “With the daytime heating, we’re expecting some thunderstorm activity to fire up over the slopes this afternoon. … Because this airmass is really unstable, conditions can deteriorate pretty quick. … From (Thursday) afternoon and into (Thursday night), we’re still looking at additional accumulation (of snow on Mauna Kea).”

As for the possibility of snow on Christmas Day, Kodama said that wasn’t likely to happen.

“Probably not. I think things will start to improve (Friday), and it will be better after that,” he said.

The heavy rains were brought on by a low-pressure cold front, according to the National Weather Service, which was expected to remain aloft and keep the atmosphere unstable enough through this morning. It was expected to produce snow on Mauna Kea, as well as heavy showers and thunderstorms on all the Hawaiian Islands.

The atmosphere was expected to stabilize today as the low moved away to the northeast.

“A ridge north of the islands will produce locally breezy trade winds through Friday morning. The trades will weaken starting Friday as the ridge shifts closer to the islands,” reads an advisory on the NWS website.

For Mauna Kea road conditions and live web cams, visit http://mkwc.ifa.hawaii.edu/current/cams/.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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