Waves up to 40 feet: Ocean goers asked to use extreme caution in hazardous ocean conditions

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FILE – Waves at Waimea Bay, Waimea, Hawaii, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Weather Service in Honolulu issued a high surf warning for north and west facing shores of Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, and Molokai as well as the north facing shores of Maui and west facing shores of the Big Island. 

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Forecasters report a large northwest swell has peaked and will briefly drop below warning levels.

However, they are projecting a larger swell to arrive by Monday night and push surf heights above the warning level again. 

Because of that, they are keeping the high surf warning in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11.

Forecasters say when there is a high surf warning, large breaking surf can be very dangerous. They warn anyone entering the water could face significant injury and in some cases death. 

According to John Bravender with the NWS in Honolulu, weather systems in mid-latitudes (outside of the tropics) are much stronger during the winter.  

He said they get their strength in part through the temperature difference between warm air and cold air.  

“During the winter time, there’s a bigger difference because the colder air is so much colder,” said Bravender. “Which leads to deeper low pressure systems and stronger winds.”  

Bravender said it’s the wind from these lows that generate waves over the ocean, which reach us as big north swells.

The same is true in the southern hemisphere, the strongest storms occur during the winter.  That’s why our south-shore surf peaks during our summer, or the southern hemisphere winter.

Hawai’i County Mayor Mitch Roth is also warning ocean goers to use extreme caution when entering waters off the West-facing shores of Hawaiʻi Island. 

This warning comes as the Hawaiʻi Fire Department reported five ocean rescues along the Kona Coast between January 8-10. 

“We are asking that folks use extreme caution when entering waters off of the Kona Coast,” said Mayor Roth.

A Hawai’i County spokesperson said due to the impacts from the high surf and ocean conditions, numerous county beach parks are closed until further notice: Kahaluʻu Beach Park, Laʻaloa Beach Park, and Māhukona Beach Park.

According to the NWS beach goers can expect ocean water occasionally sweeping across portions of beaches with very strong breaking waves and strong longshore and rip currents. 

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The NWS is also reporting the possibility of breaking waves impacting harbors making navigating the harbor channel dangerous during this time. 

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