Westerly winds knock hurricane Felicia out


POSTED: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

At its peak, Felicia blew with sustained winds of 140 mph, prompting many Hawaii residents to buy flashlights, tarpaulins and jugs of water, and some visitors to cancel activities.

But Felicia, formed in the Eastern Pacific, eventually went from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical depression as it moved in a westerly direction and passed north of the Big Island.

It was a remnant low-pressure system last night, with scattered clouds, moving toward Maui and Oahu.

Felicia fizzled mainly because westerly winds ripped away its top and midlevel in the atmosphere, leaving it with only low-level clouds moving from the east, the National Weather Service said.

“;The big player in its demise was vertical wind sheer,”; said Tom Birchard, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service. “;It was those westerly winds.”;

Birchard said westerly winds quite often play a factor in the demise of tropical storms and hurricanes approaching from the east.

Two major hurricanes, Iwa in 1982 and Iniki in 1992, came from a southerly direction.

Birchard said Iwa formed south-southwest of the islands, went north, hit Kauai and clipped Oahu.

Iniki, which became a hurricane in the Central Pacific southeast of the state, tracked west, well south of the islands, stalled and intensified, then moved north over Kauai.

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The fear of flash flooding and heavy rain never materialized; in some areas there was just a drizzle.

Kahua Ranch on the Big Island received 1.2 inches of rain a couple of days ago.

“;It really hasn't been that heavy,”; said ranch executive Monty Richards. “;It passed by us and never really said hello.”;

Felicia nudged surf to 8-to-12-foot wave faces along some eastern shores but never pushed the swells into 15-foot heights as initially predicted, the weather service said.

In eastern Kauai, strong currents swept an 18-year-old Wailua woman out to sea yesterday afternoon, but she was rescued by a county lifeguard on a rescue board and brought to the beach.

Gusts reached 40 mph at the Lanai Airport and less at other airports, but none were closed.

Haleakala National Park on Maui planned to reopen the visitor center at the summit, back-country hiking trails and its cabins in the crater today, after shutting them down late Monday.

Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said yesterday the wind and rain were unpleasant and constant but did not seem out of the ordinary for the park.

Two public charter schools on the Big Island, Kua o Kala and West Hawaii Explorations Academy, reopened after being closed earlier this week.

Several state parks were closed on Maui, including those at Polipoli, Iao, Ahihi Kinau and Wainapanapa, along with Na Pali Coast State Park on Kauai.

State officials also shut down the Big Island's Muliwai Trail and Waimanu Campground as well as 'Ainapo Trail on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

Park officials were expected to assess damage, if any, before authorizing their reopening.