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Dangerous swell appears to have peaked, but warnings extended

By Craig Gima

LAST UPDATED: 7:14 p.m. HST, Jan 17, 2014

Big wave photo gallery:

A large northwest swell has peaked, but waves remain big and dangerous and the National Weather Service has extended a high surf warning until 6 a.m. Saturday. Forecasters say waves will remain high into next week as more swells are on the way.

Organizers of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave surfing competition are watching the development of a storm in the North Pacific that could bring the biggest waves in years to Waimea Bay next week.

Wave faces today were reported at 20 to 30 feet at Sunset Beach, National Weather Service forecaster Tom Birchard said.

All north shore Kauai beaches, from the Hanalei Pavilion to Kee Beach, are closed to swimming today because of the high surf. Ocean safety officials report wave heights of up to 20 feet in those areas.

Lifeguards will remain at the beach towers throughout the day to notify beachgoers of the closure. All beaches will reopen as officials deem them safe for swimming.

The high-surf warning is posted for all north and west facing shores on Kauai, Niihau, Oahu and Molokai. Surf in the 20 to 25 foot range is expected to continue tonight on north shores and fall to advisory levels Saturday. West shores are seeing 15 to 20 foot wave faces.

North and west shores of Hawaii island are also under a high-surf advisory.

On Oahu, no major rescues or injuries were reported despite the dangerous conditions, said a spokeswoman for the city's Ocean Safety Division.

"People are staying back, listening to lifeguards," said Shayne Enright, a spokeswoman for the Ocean Safety Division. "There are a lot of people taking pictures, but it's relatively calm."

John Cummings, a spokesman for the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management, said no problems were reported from the high surf overnight and this morning.

Home threatened by beach erosion near Sunset Beach did not see further damage from this swell, Cummings said.

The city will continue to monitor the surf through Sunday, when the next big swell is expected to peak.

Forecasters say waves will remain at advisory or warning levels into next week.

Another swell is expected to arrive Saturday night and peak Sunday at warning levels.

More waves, close to warning levels, are expected Monday.

Wave watchers are monitoring the development of a low-pressure system that could bring huge waves Tuesday through Thursday.

The system hasn't developed yet, but forecast models indicate "it could be the largest swell in years," Birchard said.

However, the arrival the swell may arrive at the same time as a cold front, bringing windy and rainy conditions that could make the waves unrideable.

The National Weather Service warns beachgoers that the large surf will generate shore breaks, dangerous waves and strong currents that may make swimming "very hazardous."

Forecasters say that only "highly experienced persons should enter the water. Inexperienced persons should stay off beaches and adjacent beachfront areas...

"Anyone entering the water could face significant injury or death," the weather service said in an advisory.

A spokeswoman for the city's Ocean Safety Division said that lifeguards rescued one person at Laniakea Beach on Thursday and issued 905 warnings on the North Shore. There were six rescues on west side beaches and 578 warnings.


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