2017 in review: How king tides became Hawaii’s climate change wake-up call

2017 in review: How king tides became Hawaii's climate change wake-up call

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As we near the end of 2017, Hawaii News Now is taking a look back at the biggest stories that emerged over the course of a turbulent year for Hawaii.

This year was the first time most of us heard about king tides.

It's not a scientific term, but popularly used to describe the highest tide of the years.

And this year, Hawaii got the highest king tides since record-keeping began more than a century ago.

In May, the king tides peaked during a large south swell, swamping Waikiki as waves sloshed over the seawalls. Low-lying industrial areas were inundated in Pearl City and Mapunapuna.

The tides ate away at shorelines, but receded without causing structural damage.

What remained was a sense that this could be the new normal.

"I don't see how you could fix the problem, really," said Honolulu resident Nick Tenney in May. "If the sea level just keeps on rising, and we keep having king tides and big swells and storm surge and stuff like that."

On Maui's west side, Honoapiilani Highway was awash and residents urged the state to move the vital roadway out of danger.

And as fall approached, and wave heights rose, dangerous erosion appeared on Oahu's North Shore.


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One home near Sunset Beach lost its seawall, and the owner risked angering neighbors and state fines by rushing to shore it up without permits.

"We have to fix this problem," said homeowner Denise O'Shea. "It's dangerous."

By December, the large surf had wiped away the entire beach. Officials said the shoreline had receded to an unprecedented level. City workers scrambled to move a utility shed and bike path at Sunset Beach back from a sand cliff threatening to collapse.

"It's challenging, it's expensive, its painful, but I don't know that we have a lot of options on the North Shore," said Sam Lemmo, administrator of the state Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands.

Ocean experts and policy makers have been studying the tides and erosion as they try to plan for a 2 to 3 foot sea level rise within this century due to climate change.

Just this month, a state team estimated government and private property owners will have to spend $19 billion to protect coastal homes, highways, facilities and businesses.

While The national debate over how seriously to take the warnings about climate change continue, here in Hawaii, 2017 was the year residents saw it with their own eyes — and most people agree it's time for action.

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