'Kona Low' Wallops Hawaii With High Winds, Threat of 'Catastrophic Flooding'

The "Kona low" system currently impacting Hawaii is leading to officials warning Monday of potential damage that could be caused by high winds along with possible flash flooding the National Weather Service said could be "catastrophic," according to The Associated Press.

The Kona low is a kind of low-pressure system that typically forms around Hawaii in the winter months. The National Weather Service's science and operation officer in Hawaii, Robert Ballard, said the systems have some elements that differentiate them from similar meteorological systems in other regions.

"What we tend to see are a tremendous amount of tropical moisture gets drawn up from equatorial regions. Kona lows tend to move slowly and so they can keep heavy rain and thundershowers focused over one area for a prolonged amount of time, and they can also cause pretty strong to damaging winds," Ballard said.

Power outages and floods have been reported on the island of Maui, including over a foot of rain in certain areas.

The National Weather Service says all islands in the area face the possibility of flash flooding, landslides, dangerously strong winds and lightning strikes for the next two days.

A blizzard warning was issued over the weekend for the peak of Mauna Kea, the highest point of the state on the Big Island that stands just short of 14,000 feet, for the first time since 2018, the AP reported.

The peak saw wind gusts as high as 90 miles per hour, with various locations closer to sea level experiencing gusts as high as 50 miles per hour.

The state has already seen power lines and trees damaged, along with partially flooded roads that could get worse in the coming days depending on how long the Kona low lasts.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Hawaii, Kona Low, Storm
Hawaii is facing another big storm this week as a "Kona low" system is hitting the state with over a foot of rain and winds up to 50 mph. Above, people explore a structure on the coast of Hilo Bay in the aftermath of Hurricane Lane on August 26, 2018, in Hilo, Hawaii. Mario Tama/Getty Images

"Now is the time to make sure you have an emergency plan in place and supplies ready should you need to move away from rising water," Governor David Ige said in a statement.

Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth declared a state of emergency Sunday for potentially heavy rainfall.

On Oahu, officials opened four shelters ahead of the storm Sunday night.

Oahu and Kauai could see the brunt of the storm Monday and Tuesday. But for Maui and the Big Island, which have already been soaked, "it's not going to take a lot of additional rain to really lead to big problems," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Robert Ballard said.

The winter weather system known as a "Kona low" prompted emergency alerts throughout the weekend while delivering wind, rain and even blizzard conditions at some of Hawaii's highest elevations.

No residents live at the summit, but there are telescope observatories and other offices where officials work.

The weather service said there were reports of 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow on the road below the top of Mauna Kea, and officials were working to get to the summit to get more measurements. The forecast was for a foot of snow at the mountain's peak.

Hawaii has aging dams across the state that have been problematic during previous storms. In 2006, an earthen wall of Kauai's Kaloko Reservoir collapsed during heavy rain and sent a wave of water and mud rushing down a hillside. Seven people, including a pregnant woman, were killed.

Rainfall in March caused fears that a dam had breached on Maui when floodwaters destroyed homes and inundated roadways. The same storm system brought damaging floods to Oahu and a landslide on Kauai.

Ballard said other state and federal agencies monitor dams, but that these are the conditions that people need to be cautious of.

"It's just a situation that we need to continue to monitor and be aware of and make sure that folks understand that this is the type of situation where we can get flash flooding that happens very, very suddenly," Ballard said.