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Storm unleashes waterspouts, hail and thunderstorms

About 60,000 on Oahu lose power as lightning and thunder swirl through the state

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 4:37 p.m. HST, May 3, 2011

Video courtesy Lea Arce

Wild weather and power failures challenged residents last night as Mother Nature unleashed much of her repertoire, including thunderstorms, lightning strikes, heavy rain and even tall, dramatic waterspouts off Honolulu Harbor and hail in Upcountry Maui and Hawaii island.

“I saw a lightning flash near my dorm,” said Shanelle Solomon, a University of Hawaii-Manoa senior who lives in the Hale Wainani dorm. “It was like a purple string in the sky, like straight down.”

A Waianae family reported that lightning hit their CBradio antenna, rode a wire into their house and ended in a large flash and a pop, leaving speakers smoldering, fire Capt. Terry Seelig said.

Lightning strikes might have also been the reason two major electrical transmission lines serving the Koolau and Pukele substations went out of service, Hawaiian Electric Co. spokesman Darren Pai said.

About 60,000 customers in East Honolulu and Windward Oahu lost power at about 5 p.m., he said. Crews began restoring power to some customers beginning about 6:30 p.m.

Fire crews responded to about a dozen calls about flooded homes, Seelig said. In Waikiki, standing water on Kalakaua and Kuhio avenues made travel difficult.

The unstable air mass is expected to continue today, and “we could see thunderstorms again, but it won’t be quite as widespread” as yesterday, National Weather Service forecaster John Bravender said.

The most unusual sight yesterday was the appearance of at least two tall waterspouts that stretched from the ocean off Oahu’s south shore and up to dark clouds.

The waterspouts appeared at about 5:50 p.m. and dissipated about 12 minutes later, said Tom Birchard, senior forecaster for the National Weather Service. They moved slowly west.

Waterspouts are caused by strong updrafts in thunderstorms, Birchard explained.

Should a waterspout touch down on land, it could become a tornado, but waterspouts are generally “very, very weak” and usually dissipate within 10 minutes, Birchard said.

As the sun went down, the rain picked up and so did the lightning.

Makiki resident Lori Ohtani said she looked out her kitchen window, and “I saw a big flash, like a bolt of lightning, on the other side of a small cottage, then a ladder fell. I don’t know if it was the lightning or just a coincidence.”

Pea-size hail was reported in Olinda, Maui, at the 4,000-foot elevation, and at a Mauna Kea observatory yesterday afternoon.

Star-Advertiser writer Gary T. Kubota contributed to this report.

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