Oahu tornado developed too fast for warning to be issued

Ray Tanabe
Ray Tanabe
Peter J.S. Hirai
Peter J.S. Hirai
Annette Nishikawa
Annette Nishikawa

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

KAPOLEI (KHNL) - A day after a tornado rips through West Oahu, a question some are asking is, why was there no warning?

Last December, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning before a twister tore through Kauai. On Thursday, forecasters explained why no alert went out on Oahu.

Because tornadoes are rare in Hawaii, the National Weather Service says they are that much more difficult to predict. Plus, emergency leaders say they were dealing with a flash flood warning that went out almost the same time the funnel clouds formed.

In tornado country, when weather conditions are ripe for a funnel cloud to touch down, what you typically hear is a siren. But in Kapolei - no siren, no tornado warning.

"The thunderstorm that spawned the tornado didn't appear to be tornadic in nature and we didn't have a warning up for that event," said Ray Tanabe of the National Weather Service.

Tanabe says the tornado that tore through the Kapolei Golf Course was too quick and weak to catch on radar.

"In the case of the tornado on Kauai in December 2008, we did actually see a good radar signal and we issued a tornado warning in advance of the tornado touching down," said Tanabe.

Even if there was a warning, emergency leaders say they wouldn't sound the sirens for fear of triggering unnecessary panic across the islands.

"The sirens are a very drastic measure because everyone on the island can hear them and with the Coconut Wireless, everyone in the state would know when the sirens are being sounded," said Peter J.S. Hirai of the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management.

Instead, the community at risk would get warnings from police, fire, and a team of volunteers, using a public address system in their vehicles.

At Kapolei Middle School where kids and staff's safety was at risk, some say that could have proved useful. Fortunately, the principal says the cloud jumped over the school.

"It disintegrated above the school and a lot of the rubbish fell in some parts but nothing major happened here," said Annette Nishikawa, Kapolei Middle School Principal.

Emergency officials remind the public, if you see a funnel cloud, don't stop and stare, run for cover. In this case, when it touched down, flying debris, including rocks, were spinning up to 70 miles per hour.