Weather Service: yes, it was a tornado

Published: Mar. 9, 2012 at 9:14 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2012 at 2:14 PM HST
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By Jim Mendoza - bio | email and Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

KAILUA (HawaiiNewsNow) - Home video shows the funnel shaped water cone, churning off shore, making a beeline for Lanikai beach after it skirted the Mokulua islands.

Residents said the water spout made landfall, climbed the shoreline and became a small tornado.  It nearly flattened the home at 1218 Mokulua Drive.

"It lifted the front part of the house up and off. I think part of it is in the tree next door. Then it came in and collapsed the back part of the house," handyman Darren DeMello said.

The National Weather Service said the water spout was part of a "supercell" thunderstorm, rare in Hawaii. "We began to see some pretty significant rotation as it moved to the south and the east. And it looks like part of that rotation reached down to the surface, spun up a waterspout, and then that waterspout was sort of sling shotted across Lanikai," National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Cantin said.

Lanikai residents said the wind roared through their neighborhood like a freight train at about 7 a.m., when the water spout jumped onto the shore.

"I looked up at the palm trees and they were all leaning almost at a right angle. Then I started seeing wood, chairs and signs flying," Mike Groza said. "Then it's like somebody pushed a button. The wind went the other way, and all the trees just turned around and everything started snapping, and other things were flying around back and forth."

Cantin estimates the tornado's wind speeds reached 60 to 70 mph as it carved its way one and a-half miles inland. That would place the tornado's strength at "zero" on the Enhanced Fujita Scale of tornado strength. "Sixty, 70 miles an hour doesn't sound like a lot. But if it picks up some two-by-fours that are broken into sharp pieces and throws them at 20 miles an hour, that's a place you don't want to be," he said.

"It blew that piece of metal from our neighbors roof and wrapped it around the coconut tree," said Wayne Giesbrecht, pointing at a sheet of corrugated roofing that was folded around a tree trunk.

He said the wind demolished two sheds in the back yard of his house on Kuailima Drive.

"It just flattened both of them," he said.

"The whole street was covered with debris," Groza said. "My neighbor's roof was in my front yard, and other people's tarps were hanging out of trees."

The Weather Service said the tornado cut through Lanikai, then up and over Kaiwa Ridge into Enchanted Lake and Keolu Hills. Kahili Street resident Roy Takata had his roof covering torn off by the twister. "The whole thing flew right over and right into the neighbor's yard," he said. "I think it crushed their tool shed.

Glass littered the living room floor of Akumu Street resident Bobby Paulo after debris crashed through two windows. "I heard 'boom!' The window bust open, so I ran into the living room area, and then I seen another big chunk of roofing paper come flying, and boom! Right through the next window, just like an explosion," Paulo said.

"It was just unlike anything I've ever seen," Groza said.

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