Thursday, 11 December 2008

No observing tonight!

After witnessing some beautiful sunsets over the last three days, there's no chance of anyone witnessing the same thing this evening! I woke up at around 1pm this afternoon, opened the curtains in my dorm room to be met with a flash of lightning and a few seconds later a tremendous clap of thunder. Then it started to rain.

It was obvious last night with the high winds and freezing fog that a storm was on the way although the forecast didn't sound too severe. Today, however, the island is being hit with thunderstorms, heavy rain, and at the summit of Mauna Kea, snowfall. Given the infrared image from the GOES-West satellite above, we might get quite a lot of snow overnight!

The snow started to fall at the summit at around lunchtime today and has been captured on some of the summit webcams which aren't iced over. To the left is a webcam image from the NASA IRTF pointed towards the observatory itself. Ice is forming around the camera lense but fortunately the centre of the lense is still relatively clear. Another IRTF webcam shows a view towards the northwest, a view of Kohala if you could see through the fog and clouds. These images were captured at around 5pm local time and by then most of the various summit crews, if not all, would have abandoned the summit. The single road to the summit can quickly become impassable and the summit is the last place anyone would want to be trapped.

Another view of the summit conditions was captured by the UKIRT webcam. This shows the road up to the summit ridge (and incidentally, where the tourists were pictured in "Tourist industry in decline?" a couple of days ago) and is one of the places where ice forms very quickly, so it's monitored carefully in bad weather.

The type of storm hitting the islands is known as a "Kona Low"; a system of low pressure sits to the north or northwest of the islands and sucks up tropical moisture from the south, often resulting in flooding rains. In fact Ohau was hit badly last night, some places received rainfall rates of 3 to 4 inches per hour (try and imagine that!). It looks as though Oahu is about to be hit again judging by the satellite image as well as the Kona (west) side of the Big Island. Even on the east side it might get bad, I can hear thunder nearby.

I'm off the mountain now for a short break and will head up again to HP on Sunday and the summit on Monday. Assuming there'll be access to the summit, I hope to take a few shots of Mauna Kea covered in snow!

PS. Both Andrew and John have been reporting on the storm as well, here, here and here.

PPS. Brad also has a view on the storm. I knew he had a blog, I just couldn't remember what it was called! Welcome to my friends' blogroll, Brad!


Anonymous said...

See you at HP on Sunday night, Tom!

Beep said...

Ok, you live near the equator and wrote about ice tonight, and I live in what is supposedly the northern hemisphere and wrote about fire. In December. I am so not normal. Sometimes I think I woke up and someone said "Now every day is Opposite Day!"

The pix are beautiful. I miss living in New England and seeing snow in the winter. But I'm glad you were not stuck on the top of a mountain for this storm.

Zuzana said...

It is still incredible for me to see snow from Hawaii.
I wonder; do you work up there on these mountains? How do you obtain these webcam pictures?
I hope you will have a good weekend and stay safe(and warm).:))

alice said...

How freaky to see such snow and cold on a tropical island! Thanks for keeping us posted!

Tom said...

Ant - I'll see you Sunday or Monday - sometimes I go up early morning for breakfast rather than the night before - depends how I feel!

Beep - this is a strange place! Beautiful beaches, tropical rain forests, deserts and snow. It's an interesting place to say the least.

Protege - I work in Hilo at sea level and also on Mauna Kea, it depends on what I'm doing at the time. Just about every observatory on the mountain has a webcam or two - you can see the collection at the MKWS web camera page. I should put this link in my sidebar!

Alice - I can't remember the exact numbers right now, but the Big Island has something like 11 of the world's 13 climate zones all in one place. It saves a little vacation money living here!