Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Hawaiian Hurricane

by Madeleine Kando


Princeville, Hawaii, August 24, 2018

It is very early morning here in Princeville, on the North shore of Kauai. Usually this is just the right time to watch a spectacular sunrise from our deck - the sky filled with pink colored clouds peacefully drifting by, the ocean the color of emeralds and the waves gently tossing themselves over the black lava rock.

But today the sky is grey and so is the ocean. Hans is still asleep. He has come down with the flu as soon as we arrived and has not stopped coughing and sneezing since then. I don’t want to wake him, so with my first cup of Kona coffee in hand, I check the local news on my laptop, wondering what happened to the promised sunrise.

The local weather channel shows a visual of a monstrous hurricane approaching the Hawaiian islands, with wind speeds approaching 135 miles per hour. Nah, it cannot be that bad if it only moves at 5 miles per hour. A person can walk faster than that. It will probably veer away and find another spot in the Pacific to do what hurricanes do.

But a few hours later, the wind starts to howl and the rain pummels our windows. The deck chairs are dancing the polka on the deck and since there is not an inch of rope to be found in our rented condo, we cannot tie them down. I can see the tall lanky palm trees bend back and forth to the breaking point. The only creatures that don’t seem to be affected by this deluge are the majestic frigate birds with their long tails and wide wing span. They know how to ride the wind like cowboys of the sky.

It feels as if the whole building is having an epileptic fit. Then out of the blue, an ear piercing alarm goes off. It’s on Hans’ cellphone: ‘FLASH FLOOD WARNING!’ it says on the screen in big red letters. ‘Find higher ground. The Hanalei River is expected to rise significantly and may cover Kuhio Highway within the next hour.’

An hour later it is fact. Kuhio Highway has been closed near the Hanalei Bridge. No one can get in or out until further notice. With all this going on, my desire for a decent sunrise seems to have evaporated. I look at the ocean and see a dark grey curtain slowly move closer across the water until it reaches our windows with tremendous force, huge drops hitting the glass.

Then it hits me: this is the REAL Kauai. The Kauai that we usually experience is just for show. She dresses up in her sunrise suit for the pampered tourists, but her real nature is now apparent. It is to battle the storms, hurricanes, cyclones and monster surfs that come her way. That is what has made her so beautiful, so green and lush. With her battle scars visible along the entirety of the Napali Coast, those majestic cliff lines with deep trenches reaching into the ocean, she is the envy of the other islands. She is Kauai, the rain Goddess.

But let me tell you a story about the islands. A long long time ago, a very enterprising group of people called the Polynesians decided to hop into their canoes and explore the Pacific Ocean, either because they were sick of fighting enemies or because of some famine or other. But over a span of a couple of thousand years they managed to colonize every little peace of land that jutted out of the largest body of water on earth. The Pacific Ocean is 156 million square kilometers, which is larger than all the continents combined. If you realize that for each piece of land in the Pacific, there is 500 times more water, you can understand that the Polynesians were a people of the ocean, not of the land. How these sea-faring people found their way from island to island, often thousands of miles from each other, nobody really knows, but they did it 3000 years before the first European ship started its exploration of the Pacific. Forget about Captain Cook, Magellan, the Phoenicians or Vikings. It was the Polynesians who predated them. By the time these guys came along, the Polynesians were already done with their exploring phase. It was old hat.

I am telling you this, because being on Kauai is like being on a beautiful stationary ship. A ship in the middle of a place called Oceania, which is basically a separate continent, except that 99.9% of it is covered with water.

So you see, nobody should be surprised when a tropical storm, a hurricane or a cyclone hits a little speck of dirt called Hawaii. It’s actually surprising that it doesn’t happen more often. The events that occur in Oceania are usually supersize: super storms, super waves, super rain fall. This part of our planet is so huge that natural events have enough time and space to gather enormous quantities of volume, speed and force and if an island crosses a super-event’s path, that’s too bad. The Pacific islands do have some defense mechanisms. Trade winds can deflect the path of a super sized storm and mountain ranges can deflate its water content by forcing it to rise, but the ocean and its offspring: the tsunamis, hurricanes, tropical storms and cyclones, are clearly master of this domain and it is good to be reminded of that.

Is it a coincidence that the Hawaiian language has more than 200 words for rain? You might think that idyllic sunrises and sun drenched beaches are the norm in the Pacific, but those tourist attractions are what you might call occupational hazards. The ocean is what creates the storms which creates the clouds which make the rain, the rainbows and the magnificent sunsets.

August 28, 2018

We now have had 5 consecutive rainy, windy days and only have 4 days left before we fly back. Experiencing a hurricane in the middle of the Pacific is quite exciting, but I can hear the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a, a.k.a. the triggerfish, call out to me: ‘hey you, you haven’t said hello. With all your talk about storms and wind, are you forgetting about us down here? Didn't you spent thousands of dollars to come and look at us through your snorkeling mask?’

‘It’s easy for you to talk’, I am tempted to reply. ‘You are already wet. Besides I am not in charge you know. Maybe you should have a word with your landlord, tell him to ease off a bit on the storm creation. Otherwise, I might have to take a rain check on visiting you this time.’  leave comment here