ACROSS HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Winter came to Hawaii with a storm system that was expected to place 10 or more inches of snow on the state's tallest mountains, while disrupting Wednesday morning commutes with driving rain and street flooding.
Meteorologists cited "deep moisture and unstable air ahead of a cold front" in issuing an early morning winter storm warning for Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, in force through 6 p.m. Thursday. Conditions, they said, would be dangerous. The forecast was for 10 to 18 inches of snow.
There is already snow on Mauna Kea, whose name is Hawaiian for "White Mountain," and this is a regular occurrence in the winter months, but 10 inches would be more than usual. Any fresh snow disrupts operations at the telescopes on Mauna Kea's summit because of the steep inclines on the service roads to the observatories.
"Strong southwest winds gusting to 50 mph will result in significant blowing and drifting snow at the summits," the National Weather Service said. "Heavier snow showers could be accompanied by whiteout conditions and cloud to ground lightning." Gale force winds were expected in most windward areas across the state.
Forecasters also issued flash flood warnings for Kauai and Honolulu as a wall of heavy rain moved over the islands. By 5 a.m. intense rain was visible on traffic cameras in Honolulu, and the cameras themselves were shaking from winds. By 6 a.m. heavy rain was moving ashore on Maui. At some point the front was expected to stop moving while still over the islands.
Sparking and arcing of electric lines closed Farrington Hwy. after a utility pole broke near Aloun Farms. Ponding caused major traffic delays on Oahu.
The H-1 freeway was stop-and-go at some points, and an accident near the Punahou overpass left one car turned completely around on the slick pavement.
Ramsay Wharton, watching traffic in downtown Honolulu, reported that motorists were speeding up as rain lightened up, only to hit ponding at intersections.
"We always get folks who want to drive their trucks through flooded areas but it's not safe to do that," said John Cummings, spokesman for Honolulu city emergency services.
Small craft advisories were also issued for Hawaiian waters, effective until Thursday morning, because of a large northwest swell. Gale conditions were expected, making for difficult conditions for Young Brothers barges between islands.
The new storm comes after earlier rains that left the ground saturated across much of the state. On Maui, heavy rains Monday night exposed 60 feet of water lines in the Kula area, prompting officials to urge residents to boil their water as a precaution.
"They can also buy bottled water or they can go to two water tankers which are stationed in the area," said Maui County spokesman Rod Antone, who warned that the all-clear would not be issued until the water was tested, and results from tests would take 24 hours.
The state also issued a brown water advisory for Maalaea-Kihei on Maui's south shore. West Maui residents also had to deal with a rockslide that closed the main road to the western end of the island for about an hour Tuesday evening.
Summer visitors to Hawaii knows that the state often experiences such brief, delicate rain that the sun stays out and local residents call it "liquid sunshine." But in the winter months the state sometimes gets hours or days of driving rain and cloudy conditions that would be more familiar to residents of the other states.
The Hawaii Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that recent rains had produced a 6% rise in the level of the Waimanalo Reservoir, but drought conditions were not alleviated on Molokai or the Big Island.
Intense rain on the weekend before Christmas flooded underground utility conduits, leading to days of electrical outages at Ala Moana Center - more than five feet of water was found in some conduit trenches - and weeks of scattered service problems for Hawaiian Telcom.