Fire and rain? New UH study sheds light on hurricanes’ effect on wildfires

This Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 photo provided by the County of Kauai shows flooding at Ala Eke near...
This Monday, Aug. 27, 2018 photo provided by the County of Kauai shows flooding at Ala Eke near the town of Hanalei following impacts from Hurricane Lane (County of Kauai via AP)(County of Kauai | AP)
Updated: Jul. 23, 2020 at 10:18 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Hawaii braces for the impacts of Hurricane Douglas, a new study by University of Hawaii researchers on the impact of a 2018 storm sheds light on how a hurricane and the islands’ unique topography could increase wildfire risks.

In 2018, Hurricane Lane unleashed record-breaking rainfall on Hawaii. But according to the study released Wednesday, Lane could have also been the first storm to produce both heavy rain and fire.

Researchers said conditions at the edge of the storm were dry and windy, increasing the risk for wildfires. Meanwhile, the moist atmosphere near the center of the storm brought intense rainfall and flooding.

“The surprising thing about Hurricane Lane was that, despite never making landfall, the storm caused considerable damage and disruptions across the state from two rather contradictory things: fire and rain,” said Alison Nugent, lead author of the study and assistant professor at UH-Manoa’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

At that time, there were multiple fires on the leeward sides of Maui and Oahu within hours of each other, she said.

“Hurricane Lane is one of only three documented cases of hurricanes influencing wildland fire risk in real time,” Nugent said.

The August 2018 cyclone dumped the most rain ever recorded in Hawaii, with an average of 17 inches of rain over four days.

The study points out that Hawaii’s vulnerability to these natural hazards can pose significant challenges on first responders – especially in the context of climate change.

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