The National Weather Service says a dust devil was likely responsible for ripping the corrugated metal roof off a Kihei bus base yard Thursday afternoon.
Onlookers had described what looked like a "mini tornado" sweeping through the area. The airborne 30-by-40-foot roof took down power lines before landing against a nearby home on Paulele Place.
"My best guess, if it looked like a mini tornado, would be what's called a dust devil," said Derek Wroe, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu. "The conditions (Thursday) definitely were not conducive for a tornado to form. There's no evidence to really tell what happened."
This powerful dust devil swirled around the Kihei sewage treatment plant Thursday at about 12:25 p.m. There is no confirmation that this is the same dust devil that ripped the roof off a bus base yard structure, which was a half mile away. Firefighters responded to the bus base yard call at 12:36 p.m.
LES HONDO photo
Wroe said it's rare for dust devils to gain enough strength to cause serious damage.
"To get something like this is definitely unusual, but sometimes we can see winds of over 60 mph inside them," he said. "We've also had a very strong week of trade winds across the state, with some wind gusts in the 30s or well over 40 mph. When you're downwind of an obstacle and there's heating on the ground beneath it, you'll get a little wind swirl."
Theodore Leong reported seeing a wind tunnel forming around 12:25 p.m. that afternoon on the mauka side of Piilani Highway near the Kihei Wastewater Treatment Plant facility where he works.
"It was pulling some debris, light trash with it," Leong said. "We were outside and you could feel the vacuum, like it's pulling you into it. . . . I thought it would die out like they normally do, but it stayed pretty strong. You could feel its strength."
There is no confirmation that this was the same dust devil that hit the Kihei bus base yard, though the reports occurred within minutes of each other and the two sites are about a half mile apart. Firefighters responded to the roof being blown off the base yard at Akina Aloha Tour/Akina Bus Service at 140 Alahele Place at 12:36 p.m.