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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

DAY 7: Puna Eruption....and RAIN

It is now one week since the volcanic eruption in the middle of Leilani Estates in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii began.  Good news.  First, no living casualties.  Second, there seems to be a pause.  However, the headline of the Star Advertiser most ominously blared:  IT'S NOT OVER.  If anything significant happens, I'll chime back here.  

For today, I'm returning to the posting I earlier promised.  From scorching hot to catastrophically wet.  A week ago my post reported on what happened to the other end of the Hawaiian Islands almost a month ago, the record rainfall on the Island if Kauai. 

There was a 1932 film based on a story by Somerset Maugham called RAIN (this is the entire 1 hr 34 min production), with Joan Crawford playing Miss Sadie Thompson.  In a musical by that name in 1953, she is played by Rita Hayworth as a prostitute in Hawaii, and that is the only connection to my posting on RAIN, which has to do with falling drops of water.
Last month the area next to Wainiha on the island of Kauai got 49.69 inches of rain, more than four feet, in 24 hours, the highest in the history of the USA.  In comparison, Hurricane Harvey dumped 60.68 inches just north of Houston, but over a five-day period.  This was supposedly a 1000-year storm.  So what kind of storm was the one over Kauai?

Previously, Kilauea, Kauai was inundated on a day in 1956 with 37 inches.  I was living in that sugar town in 1963 when we got 19 inches, and I remember the waterfall we had in our backyard disappear because the river flow was so voluminous.  The water level was at least twice as high as that waterfall.

A second connection is that in 1906 my grandfather was in charge of building a 3 MW hydroelectric facility at Wainiha.  I went to visit it a century after it was commissioned, and the powerplant was still producing 3 MW with essentially the same water supply and generation equipment.  This is why the system was built there, for it rains a lot.

This whole area in north and central Kauai is among the wettest on Earth, in competition with Cherrapunji and Mawsynram in India.  In 1982 Mount Waialeale received 683 inches, nearly 57 feet, but Cherrapunji got nearly 87 feet in a one-year period from 1860/61.  If you divide the total volume of rain that falls on lands in the State of Hawaii, and divide by the area, we average 72 inches, or 6 feet, per year.

Of course, rainfall averages can rapidly change, depending on location and orographic patterns.  Less than 15 miles away from Mt. Waialeale is Mana, which gets 23 inches/year.  I remember a long time ago when I was teaching Environmental Engineering at the University of Hawaii saying that Mana Beach is only ten miles from Mt. Waialeale, and gets 10 inches of rain per year.

Okay, so was the 4 feet of Kauai rainfall in a 24-hour period the world record?  Nope:
  • Most in 24 hours: 71.9 inches (6 feet)  Cilaos, Reunion on 7-8January1966
  • Most in single storm: 253.3 inches (21 feet) Commerson, Reunion in January 1980
You might want to avoid Reunion in the month of January.  I went there in 2005 and was met with an outbreak of Chikungunya.  This is a no-cure-available severe viral infection that, according to one source, infected 266,000 of the island's 770,000 people.  The symptoms resemble Dengue Fever with a lot more pain.  Luckily, I avoided getting bitten by one of their mosquitos with that disease.  I was even more fortunate in a trip I took nearly thirty years ago to Papua New Guinea.  Read about my tribulations with Malaria.

Did you know that Rain by Madonna was released in 2009 and Rain by the Beatles came out in 1966?  Just checked.  Never heard either before.  Then, of course, Purple Rain by Prince and Singing in the Rain.


By the way, where is the driest place on Earth?  The Dry Valleys of Antarctica, which have seen zero net rainfall for 2 MILLION YEARS.  The Friis Hills there have had no water for 14 million years.  But wait, you say, what about all that snow and those lakes?  I wondered, too, and best as I can figure out, the snow drifted in from outside the area.

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