Winter signaled its arrival in the islands Wednesday with the first snow of the season falling atop the Big Island's Mauna Kea, heavy rain in areas of Maui and the rescue of about nine hikers stranded by swollen streams in East Maui.
Officials also expressed some concern about the loss due to budget cuts of Maui rain gauges used as an advance warning for flash flooding.
A weather system that brought heavier rain to the rest of the state sprinkled the state's highest peak with a bit of snow Tuesday, but most of it had melted by late Wednesday.
Drivers navigate a wet Hansen Road on Wednesday. A weather system brought rain to the islands and snow to the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. While the system was weakening, it was expected to linger, bringing more rain and possibly thunderstorms to the state today and Friday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Victor Dejesus, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Honolulu office, said the system was weakening but continued to linger. It may bring some heavy rain and thunderstorms to the state today and Friday.
Dejesus said an upper-level disturbance led high-altitude temperatures to drop significantly, causing it to snow.
At 3:54 p.m. Wednesday, the weather service issued a flood advisory for Maui until 7 p.m.
The service reported that radar showed nearly stationary, heavy rain falling from Ulupalakua to Kula and extending to the windward slopes and coast from Huelo to Nahiku.
The stranded hikers were reported in trouble late Wednesday afternoon at the Bamboo Forest on the Kailua side of the Twin Falls area in Haiku. Firefighters went to assist the hikers on foot and with a crew on the Fire Department's Air One helicopter. The hikers were located and reported to be in "good condition."
For the 24-hour period ending at 5 p.m. Wednesday, a check of more than two dozen Maui County rain gauges found that 0.84 inch had fallen at Puu Kukui deep in the West Maui Mountains, 0.53 inch at Haiku, 0.34 inch at Kaupo Gap and 0.24 inch at Mahinahina.
Data were missing from the Hana Airport, Pukalani and Wailuku gauges on Maui and from the Kamolo and Kaunakakai Mauka gauges on Molokai. And, readings have been discontinued at the West Wailuaiki and Oheo Gulch rain gauges in East Maui because of spending cuts, officials said Wednesday.
The two Maui gauges are among seven lost statewide because of federal budget cutbacks, said Ron Rickman, data chief for the U.S. Geological Survey in Honolulu. The state had 27 rain gauges, but as of Oct. 1 there were 20.
"We've been cutting gauges for years," he said. "Everybody's tight on funding. . . . Costs go up."
The West Wailuaiki and Oheo Gulch gauges had a "fairly short period of record," compared with others, Rickman said, adding that their short life span (they were put in place in 2002) led to the decision to discontinue them.
Also a number of stream-flow gauges have been discontinued because of budget cuts, he said. Those include gauges measuring stream flow on the Waiokamiolo, Honopou and Oheo gulch streams in East Maui and Kawela Stream on Molokai, he said. The stream-flow measurement projects had a variety of funding sources.
Bob Collum, a staff specialist at the county Civil Defense Agency, said his department relies on the National Weather Service rainfall reports for advance warning about possible floods.
Last month, at a meeting of civil defense and NWS, the county was asked to help pay for the gauging, "but we just don't have that in our budget."
The more important gauges are in remote and inaccessible places, he said.
The alternative source of warning information would be the NWS Skywarn system, Collum said, but it is "not nearly as good" as direct measurements.
Skywarn uses radar plus observations by 290,000 volunteers to identify severe weather locally.
The cutbacks "will affect us indirectly," Collum said Wednesday. The loss of continuous historical information on stream flow, which plantations began collecting a century ago, will also make a difference.
Rickman said his agency has worked with state and local partners to maintain funding, but the pot of available money keeps getting smaller.
He acknowledged the loss of valuable weather information and was not optimistic about the return of funding anytime soon.
"The political climate is cut, cut, cut," he said. "I would be really surprised if things get better."
Rickman said there also have been cuts to his staff of 13, although he declined to provide a specific number of jobs lost.
National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama said the islands' wet season normally starts in October, but last month was "pretty dry" and the rainy season got a late start.
Rainy weather could continue through the weekend, he said.
The wet weather relieves somewhat long-term dry conditions that have persisted in the islands. On Wednesday, the U.S. Geological Survey released an updated report that Maui has had below-average rainfall for the past three months and below average for 11 of the past 12 months at Puu Kukui, the wettest site in the West Maui Mountains. Also, stream flows at five of six recording stations on Maui and Molokai were below normal.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff Writer Harry Eagar and the Associated Press contributed to this report.