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Supercell thunderstorms to blame for record-setting 2018 storm on Kauaʻi, researchers say

A damaged home on Kauaʻi during the 2018 record-setting rainstorm.
University of Hawaiʻi News
A damaged home on Kauaʻi during the 2018 record-setting rainstorm.

Scientists are still studying an intense storm that hit parts of Kaua’i a little more than four years ago.

Nearly 50 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, shattering the previous record for rainfall in the United States, and scientists are still working out how exactly that was done.

Researchers from the University of Hawai’i say it was a “supercell thunderstorm," one that includes a rotating updraft that caused the storm with its changing direction and speed of high winds hitting Kaua’i’s steep cliffs.

UH professor Steve Businger is still simulating the storm with various weather and topography points.

“What we're doing first is an idealized study, where we provide the model with a very high-resolution model, and we put terrain in it that is kind of idealized first and we give it the change in winds that were seen in the Kaua’i case,” he said.

Using the different types of terrain, he could focus the energy of the thunderstorm.

“Eventually, we will put in the exact terrain that we have on Kaua’i and see if we can reproduce the 50 inches that fell,” he said. “So far, none of those numerical models that we have has been able to reproduce.”

The closest they’ve gotten in their simulation is about 30 inches of rain, he said.

The unprecedented storms on Kaua’i’s North Shore in April 2018 caused $180 million worth of damage. The deluge damaged or destroyed over 500 homes.

Click here for more about the research.

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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