Heavy rains snarl traffic, close highways

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Ed Teixeira is asking people in East Hawaii to stay home this weekend unless they have a critical need to drive.

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Ed Teixeira is asking people in East Hawaii to stay home this weekend unless they have a critical need to drive.

That, the Hawaii County Civil Defense interim administrator said, will give first responders and road crews better access for emergencies and cleanup efforts.

“We urge residents and visitors to monitor weather forecasts and be prepared to take action should flash flood warnings be issued,” Civil Defense said late Friday. “Campers and hikers should consider postponing their outing until the weather is better.”

Lt. Jefferson Grant of the Hawaii Police Department said that Friday was extremely busy for officers in the field, especially in the Hamakua region along Highway 11.

“This morning, we had two minor landslides that blocked half a lane,” he said Friday afternoon. “Then, we just had a total road blockage with a landslide.”

All three landslides were cleared away by early afternoon, but Grant asked motorists to continue checking road condition reports before heading out. He said there is a lot of debris, trees and mud on roads caused by flooding.

“It’s been raining hard. Then it would stop. Then it would be raining hard. Then it would stop,” Grant said.

Road closures Friday included Kamehameha Avenue in both directions in Hilo from Ponahawai Street to Manono Street. Also, the intersection of Pauahi Street and Aupuni Street was closed in both directions and Bayfront Highway was temporarily closed in the Hilo direction at the intersection with Waianuenue Avenue, Inbound traffic was being diverted to Waianuenue through Friday night.

There were intermittent closures along Highway 11 at mile marker 58-59. The normal entrance to Eden Roc subdivision in Puna was closed midafternoon Friday because of a large area of standing water.

A flash flood warning for the entire island was extended repeatedly throughout the day but was canceled Friday evening, with a flash flood watch remaining in effect through Sunday. A small-craft advisory was issued for most of the state, including the entire Big Island.

Rain was heavy at times throughout East Hawaii. Pahoa got 6.15 inches of rain in the previous 24 hours as of 4 p.m. Friday. Hilo International Airport reported 4.7 inches, Mountain View got 4.56 inches and South Point 2.61 inches.

National Weather Service meteorologist Leighanne Eaton said it’s possible that downpours with as much as 3 to 4 inches of rain per hour will continue in some areas of East Hawaii throughout the weekend.

The torrential rains caused traffic congestion in downtown Hilo that triggered some rare honks of frustration from drivers trying to get onto or off Kinoole Street.

“We’re actually supposed to be snorkeling in Kona today,” said Gary Huntley of southern Oregon. But he said he learned the road he was supposed to take was impassible.

Huntley and his party made the best of it by tailgating at a parking spot along the Bayfront. The most teeth-grinding part about his weather experience? It wasn’t the missed snorkeling opportunity. Rather, Huntley was supposed to apply for his marriage license while in Kona.

Five members of his wedding party were stuck there, while he and the rest, including his fiance, were in Hilo. But Huntley said everything will work out somehow, and they’ll be able to take a different, longer route if needed.

Hele-On buses were able to stick relatively close to schedule despite road closures, office manager Del Walter said at the Bayfront bus depot.

“Sales are good,” she said. “I was surprised. I thought it was going to be really slow.” The only bus that might not stay on schedule, she said, is the one coming from Ka‘u, which will have to deal with intermittent road closures.

Kamuela Lorenza was hopping a bus to go about 4 miles and said the weather has made traveling uncomfortable.

“It’s been horrible for days,” he said. Sometimes, buses have been delayed and there have been more people aboard.

“It’s hard to find a comfortable seat. Everybody’s got their bags, and their bags are wet and they’re wet,” Lorenza said. But he said it’s Hawaii and he’ll eventually get to where he’s going.

The weather is expected to turn around, at least for a brief respite.

“Like Monday time frame, there’s going to be a break in some of the harsh weather,” Eaton said. Things might get rainy again after that, but she’s hopeful the sun will break through and folks will be able to see Mauna Kea’s snowcapped summit — at least for a little while.

For those who have been shivering for a couple of days, Eaton noted the weather pattern began shifting Friday morning from chilly to more humid (and still wet).

“Our winds have started to shift out of the southeast direction,” Eaton said. That will bring warmer but still moist air during the weekend. It’s likely to stick in the mid-70s until the end of the weekend.

Nevertheless, Eaton cautioned those in flood-prone areas.

“There’s not going to be enough time, really, for the ground to dry,” she said. Thus, if more heavy rain falls, as expected, additional flash flooding will occur.

Eaton noted that recent weather is “changing what we’ve been seeing for the past several weeks.” But, she said, “it’s a significant weather event, but we are in the wet season. It’s pretty much on key for what we usually see.”

Pahoa in particular likely will get “some pretty hefty rainfall totals,” Eaton said, because of winds pushing some of the slower-moving parts of the weather system into the region.

The peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa saw snow of 6 inches to 1 foot, Eaton said, with drifts up to 3 feet high. They likely will receive more snow until the rains at lower elevations end.

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“That mountain (Mauna Kea) is almost 14,000 feet you’re rising up. Any time you have one of these thunderstorms develop, it’ll be snowing at the summit but raining down in Hilo,” Eaton said.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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