Wind-toppled trees lie next to a house with part of its roof blown off in the South Kona district. The fact that all of the trees point in the same direction, the National Weather Service says, indicates a downburst of wind rather than a tornado.

Forecasters say wind blast
caused damage on Big Isle

SOUTH KONA, Hawaii >> Straight line downburst winds traveling up to 90 mph -- not a tornado -- damaged a three-mile swath of South Kona late Friday night, the National Weather Service has determined.

"It's just as bad or more devastating than a tornado," said weather service hydrologist Kevin Kodama.

No overall figures for damage from the Friday night and Saturday storm are available, but the state Department of Agriculture estimated agricultural damage of up to $2 million, according to preliminary figures.

About $750,000 of that is due to extensive damage by the downburst winds to macadamia orchards at Mac Farms of Hawaii in South Kona, the weather service said.

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday extended an existing disaster proclamation to cover damage from the weekend storm.

The governor's original proclamation dealt with damage on Oahu Dec. 7 and 8 due to heavy rains and flooding. Her action yesterday extends benefits statewide.

The primary benefits are permitting hands-on help by the Hawaii National Guard and the availability of low-interest loans for damaged locations.

The weather service said it analyzed radar imagery, photographs and statements by South Kona residents, and other indicators to decide upon downburst winds.

Especially significant was the fact that most trees fell in the same direction, Kodama said. "The trees look like dominoes, knocked down all in the same direction," he said.

All factors indicated a 10-minute wind blast that came out of the sea about 11:30 p.m. and moved rapidly inland from the southwest. The path was three miles long and up to 800 feet wide, Kodama said.

A similar downblast took place on southern Kauai in 1995, he said.

John Wolverton, whose home sits near Mac Farms, said the Friday night winds passed his house in just 20 seconds or so.

"It was shaking the house like an earthquake. The earth was shaking," Wolverton said.

After it was over, he found strange things like the back of a stereo speaker blown open and all the light bulbs in the house seemingly bent at a slight angle, he said.

The solidly built house wasn't damaged. "I didn't get bulls-eyed," he said.

Several neighbors lost part or all of their roofs.

Neighbor Georgie Kennedy's house was moved 15 feet and is considered a total loss.

About 5,000 macadamia, ohia, and kukui trees were knocked down, the weather service said. "Some had their tops sheared off," it said.

Although the South Kona event was not a tornado, radar records suggest a tornado that night did hit an unpopulated area near Pahala, 25 miles to the east, the weather service said.

And 20 miles northeast of Pahala, winds toppled trees onto two cars, a pavilion and a cabin at the Namakani Paio campground of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The campground name means "blustery winds."


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