Rangers: Look but don’t go to snow

White winter reached down the mountain to Polipoli; scores still without power

With snow-capped Haleakala serving as a backdrop, Paia’s Scott Picton plays guitar and Saskatchewan’s Shannon and Dan Runcie walk on Sugar Beach on Monday morning. While it was 25 degrees below zero back home and the snow did not impress them all that much, the Runcies said Kihei’s wind, rain and high surf caught their attention. “This morning I thought the roof was going to go off the building,” Shannon Runcie said. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The powerful winter storm that passed through Maui County on Sunday left a blanket of snow atop Haleakala, but this time residents had to enjoy it from afar after snow drifts left the road to the summit impassable.

Haleakala National Park remained closed Monday with snow, ice and fallen debris creating hazards along the road, park spokeswoman Nancy Stimson said. The Summit District still was experiencing power outages, and the exact amount of snow that had fallen was unknown.

“We encourage everyone to enjoy the view from downcountry and not to try to enter the park,” Superintendent Natalie Gates said.

At about 7:15 p.m. Monday, the park still was closed and all access roads, starting at Crater Road at about Mile Marker 10, were closed off due to icy conditions and low visibility, an advisory said. Park rangers will be turning vehicles and people around.

Chief Ranger Ari Wong said the park likely would not be able to open for sunrise today.

The surf at Hookipa Beach Park on Sunday was breaking at 15 to 25 feet, according to Ilan Artzi, who lives near Hookipa and windsurfs or surfs daily. He said the surf was washing up against the pavillion seawall. ILAN ARTZI photo

“The ice is not melting quickly enough,” he said. “Anything that does melt is going to refreeze, which is going to make it really hazardous in the morning. There’s no way. As much as we would want to open it, it’s so unsafe.”

Farther down the mountain slopes, Polipoli Spring State Recreation Area, used by hunters and hikers, also got a rare snowfall Sunday at around the 6,500- to 7,000-foot elevation, which National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Foster said was “pretty unusual.”

“I haven’t seen that before,” said Foster, adding that the National Weather Service did not have records as to the lowest elevation that Maui had experienced snow.

The Maui News archives show that a snowfall in January 1918, “the heaviest in years,” reached down to Polipoli. Another snowfall in February 1903 extended “lower down than there is any record of before, reaching almost to Olinda,” which sits at around the 4,000- to 5,000-foot elevation.

But snowfall at such levels may not have occurred in the lifetimes of many Upcountry residents.

The snow atop Haleakala reached down into Polipoli, the lowest elevation in many residents’ memories. The national park remained closed to the public due to snow drifts, icy roads and low visibility. This photo was taken from Kihei on Monday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“I’ve been here 50 years, and I’ve not seen snow that low anywhere,” Kula resident Dick Mayer said. “Maybe Hosmer Grove, but down to Polipoli was a new record, at least in my memory.”

However, Mayer pointed out that sometimes residents can’t always see the top of the mountain after a storm. By the time the clouds clear and the sun comes out, the snow is already starting to melt.

Mayer added that he was impressed with how accurately meteorologists had predicted the no-name winter storm that walloped the islands Sunday.

“They got the storm exactly right,” he said. “I think the weathermen should be given some real credit for warning people and getting it right on time.”

Foster said the islands would continue to see windy conditions and some showers this week as the remnants of the storm passed through.

At least six boats moored at Mala Small Boat Harbor were pulled off moorings in the weekend storm and beached. Boats washed ashore in West and South Maui. THOMAS BOLZ photo

“But I think the worst of it was yesterday,” he said. “There may be a band of showers associated with this. The same system is going to kind of drag this weak front over the islands maybe in the next day or so.”

The National Weather Service also extended a high-surf warning for the north-facing shores of Maui and the north- and west-facing shores of Molokai until 6 a.m. today. Waves of 20 to 25 feet were expected along the north-facing shores of Molokai and Maui, and 12 to 20 feet along the west-facing shores of Molokai.

Ilan Artzi, who lives near Hookipa and goes surfing or windsurfing every day, said the waves reached 15- to 25-foot faces Sunday. Despite the closures, Artzi said people were coming into the park and going down to the beach, “where waves were hitting the wall at the pavilions.”

“With no lifeguard on duty and the extreme conditions, this is of course a safety concern,” Artzi said. “Hundreds of tourists were out. The road had hundreds of cars illegally parked because the park was closed. This happens almost every time they shut the park due to weather.”

Baldwin, Hookipa and Lower Paia beach parks remained closed Monday due to flooding.

The state Department of Health also issued a brown-water advisory for the island and warned people to stay out of floodwaters and stormwater runoff.

Salvage operations were ongoing for a half-dozen boats that washed ashore in West and South Maui, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. There were no reports of pollution from spilled fuel.

Meanwhile, parks and roads began to reopen. The Waiehu Golf Course was open Monday morning, along with all playing fields in West and South Maui and Molokai. East Maui playing fields remained closed, as well as several in Central Maui — Luana Gardens fields; Keopuolani Park fields 1, 2 and 3; War Memorial Little League fields 1 and 2; and Papohaku Park.

The Kihei, Haiku and Makawao residential recycling centers also reopened.

All county roads were open Monday morning, except for Olinda and Piiholo roads and Haliimaile Road near Baldwin Avenue due to downed power lines and trees.

Around 6:30 a.m. Monday, there was a report of three school buses stranded between downed utility lines on Kaupakalua Road in Haiku, but a Maui Electric Co. crew quickly cleared the lines, the county said.

According to MECO, about 30,500 customers across various parts of Maui County experienced power interruptions ranging from brief to sustained outages Sunday. Most were back online by midnight, but another 455 customers in parts of Upcountry were still without power as of noon Monday.

By 7 p.m. Monday, MECO had not restored power to the last 150 customers in Olinda and Piiholo and parts of Haiku, MECO spokeswoman Sayble Bissen said. MECO was asking those customers to hold on for another overnight without power.

Several crews were continuing to make repairs after large trees brought down power lines, Bissen said. Work will continue through the night to get power restored as quickly as possible.

“We’re doing everything we possibly can to bring these last few homes back online,” said Sharon Suzuki, president of Maui County and Hawai`i Island Utilities. “We know that being without power is a hardship for families, and we thank you for your patience and understanding.”

The high winds brought down trees and with them power poles and lines, Bissen said. The repair work includes the removal of large trees, resetting new poles in some parts and restringing power lines in several different areas to fully restore customers.

Iao Valley customers also experienced an outage Monday morning after a large tree came down on some utility lines.

Kula and Olinda residents were asked to conserve water because the Piiholo Water Treatment Plant was without power and couldn’t pump water up to residents at higher elevations. The county encouraged other residents to conserve water as well.

While many businesses had to close down after power went out Sunday, Pukalani Foodland workers found a way to get people their groceries, letting in a few at a time and guiding them through the aisles with flashlights.

Agnes Purdy, the manager on duty Sunday, said she was just about to take a lunch break when the power went out at around 2:30 p.m. As customers were ushered to the front of the store, workers covered the meat bunkers with plastic and secured the doors to the frozen foods section. Purdy called her store director, who told her to let people in so long as they were escorted by an employee.

The store’s generators had enough power for the registers but not enough for the lights, so workers grabbed flashlights and iPhones and led shoppers through the store. Purdy said that three people worked the cash registers while at least half a dozen employees escorted shoppers.

“Everybody was respectful, and they were just like thankful that we opened,” Purdy said.

The frozen foods and hot foods that had been sitting for awhile — like the Spam musubi — were off limits, but with most other stores closed, customers were happy to pick up the basics. Purdy said about 60 to 80 people came through the store that way until the power came back on shortly before 6 p.m.

To report any storm-related damage, call the Maui Emergency Management Agency at 270-7285 or visit mauicounty.gov.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS