Paradise Lost in Maui

Hurricane Dora Combines with High Pressure for Wind-Fueled Wildfires in Maui

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LAHAINA, HI – Hawaii is a paradise for many living there, and traveling there.  Most of the time, weather conditions are rather calm and tranquil compared to many of its lower 48 state counterparts.  Cooler sea surface temperatures, trade winds, and geographic location normally protect the Hawaiian Island chain from severe weather such as drought and tropical cyclones.  However, two weeks ago, a combination of weather events resulted in paradise lost in Maui.

The active Eastern Pacific season of 2023, driven by the emergence of at least a moderately strong El Niño, has produced 9 depressions, 8 named storms, 6 hurricanes, and 2 major hurricanes.  Both major hurricanes, Dora and Hilary ended up having some sort of impact on the United States.  Dora’s impact was more indirect, but still devastating to the island of Maui in the Hawaiian Island chain.

Most Powerful Storm in the Eastern Pacific This Year

To date, Hurricane Dora has been the most powerful storm in the Eastern Pacific this season.  The storm also had tremendous staying power.  It became the longest-lasting Category Four Hurricane on record in the Pacific.  Joining storms such as Hurricane John (1994), Dora became one of those rare Eastern Pacific tropical systems to cross the International Date Line into the Western Pacific and is known as a typhoon.  Dora’s peak intensity was at 145 mile per hour winds and a minimum central pressure of 942 millibars, or 27.82 inches.  

What do those intensity numbers with Dora mean?  Well, Superstorm Sandy had the exact same barometric pressure at Greg’s Weather Center in South Plainfield, New Jersey on October 29, 2012.  Ironically, Dora didn’t make a direct impact on the Hawaiian Island chain.  However, going to the south of the islands, Dora combined with an area of strong high pressure to the north of Hawaii produced a significant difference in pressure or pressure gradient.

Pressure Gradient Funnels Winds that Fueled the Fires

The vast difference in pressure caused winds to funnel in from both the powerful hurricane and the strong high pressure.  The resulting winds were as high as 67 miles per hour according to ABC News.  Other parts of Hawaii had wind gusts as high as 82 miles per hour.  Combined with low humidity, these winds fueled devastating wildfires. The fires were apparently sparked by faulty power lines in Maui according to the Washington Post.

According to Hawaii’s Governor, Josh Green, the wildfires traveled at a rate of one mile per minute.  As of Sunday afternoon, the death toll from these devastating fires was 114 people. There are still an estimated 1,000 more still unaccounted for.  The Maui Wildfire death toll is the highest in modern United States history according to NBC News.  The previous mark of 85 deaths was set by the deadly Camp Fire in Northern California back in November 2018.

Paradise Devastated by Fires

Approximately 2,200 buildings were destroyed in Maui with the majority of the damage to the history city of Lahaina.  The city also is the location of the Civic Center, where the Maui Invitational Tournament is held. The Maui Invitational is one of the most popular early-season men’s college basketball tournaments every year.  After initially serving as an evacuation center, the Civic Center had to be evacuated. As of now, the Civic Center has managed to escape damage from the fires.

Another casualty of the destruction was a restaurant owned by Mick Fleetwood of the rock group Fleetwood Mac.  Fleetwood’s on Front Street was also lost in the wake of the devastating fires.  Lahaina, the original capital of the Hawaiian Islands, is about 80 percent destroyed according to Wikipedia.

If you would like to donate to those in need in the wake of the devastating wildfires in Maui, go to the Maui Strong Fund #maui #wildfires

Other Hawaiian Islands Affected

Other parts of the Hawaiian Island chain were also affected by wildfires.  The big island of Hawai’i also experienced rapidly spreading wildfires in both the Northern and Southern districts of Kohala.  Other fires broke out near the towns of Naalehu and Pahala but were quickly contained.  Another brushfire took place on Oahu. The outskirts of Wahiawa were threatened but thankfully no homes were damaged.

Much of the Western United States has been spared the ravages of wildfires this summer after numerous years of seemingly unrelenting fires and drought.  Canada, however, has not been so lucky.  Canadian Provinces from Alberta and Saskatchewan to Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia were scorched. Plumes of smoke affected air quality in many cities across the United States including New York City on June 7th.