Kamehameha Hwy. reopens along Oahu’s North Shore as extreme surf subsides

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The state has reopened Kamehameha Highway after shutting down the road in both directions from Haleiwa to Turtle Bay due to high surf.

At 2 p.m. Monday, road blocks were set up along Kamehameha Highway at Haleiwa Road, Joseph P. Leong Highway, and Kuilima Drive.

Police monitored the highway and only allowed emergency vehicles, public transportation including TheBus and local traffic through.

“We really apologize for any inconveniences that we caused with this road restriction. We’ve got to make sure that everybody stays safe,” said Ed Sniffen, deputy director, HDOT. “It is extremely unpredictable with the wave heights that are coming through right now. The best thing is make sure we can keep everybody safe on the roadway, make sure that we can clear debris to make sure it stays safe, and this is a measure that we worked on with the city, the Department of Emergency Management, with Ocean Safety and with HPD to make sure we keep everybody safe in the area.”

Officials said this was the largest stretch the state has ever closed as a preventative measure.

The highway was reopened by 6:15 p.m., though crews will continue to monitor the surf and the roads, including the impact of the next high tide at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Mahalo to Clark Little for sharing video of surf pounding the shoreline near Three Tables Beach.

All day, crews were busy clearing debris from the highway, the main access to Oahu’s North Shore.

“There’s the old military road, Drum Road, which goes from Whitmore to Kahuku, but it’s not suitable for passenger traffic,” said Sen. Gil Riviere (D/Waialua, Haleiwa, Kahuku).

“Does this prompt more conversation or discussion about alternate access into that community?” KHON2 asked.

“Discussions are always ongoing, not just alternate access, but moving the highways,” Sniffen said. “Anytime we look at our belt system that our state is built around, we always look at moving those roadways in, in the future.”

But that would be costly, about $1.8 billion. “That’s a real expensive proposition and I just don’t think the budget, finance or desire is there,” Riviere said.

The surf has damaged the highway on the North Shore before, most recently in Kaaawa. Crews repaired it last week, and checked on it Monday morning. Officials said that section of the highway is fine, but high surf is pushing debris onto the roadway in Kaaawa, which remains open.

Beaches closed, lifeguards pulled from posts

Haleiwa and Haleiwa Alii Beach Parks, Waimea Bay, and Keawaula Beach (aka Yokohama Bay) on Oahu, and Hookipa Beach Park on Maui, were all closed Monday due to public safety concerns related to high surf. They were reopened Tuesday.

The closures were due to the largest swell of the season, and the National Weather Service in Honolulu says significant coastal flooding is likely.

“The wind and the swell are coming from the same direction, so we’re seeing a lot of significant wave heights, rogue waves washing over the roads,” said Mark Rigg, Honolulu Emergency Services director. “This particular swell has got a lot of northerly direction in it, so it’s impacting the Windward side rather significantly. Sandy Beach is getting the wrap from the swell. Sandy Beach is 10 feet, Makapuu is 10-15 feet. Normally when the swell is from the more northwesterly direction, we don’t see wave activity in those beaches.”

The surf is expected to be large enough for the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational surf contest. Organizers have issued a yellow alert for Thursday, and the official call will be made that morning. Get the full story here.

“Conditions are rough, choppy water, on-shore wind, waves are about, if you’re talking about size right now, 55-foot faces. That’s what you see coming towards you. It’s pretty big,” said Vitor Marcal, Ocean Safety North Shore captain. “A lot of surges everywhere. We have a lot of wash-ups on the road, places like right behind the skate park, Kam(ehameha) Highway is getting a lot of wash-ups, by the war memorial, Alii, Haleiwa side, and Laniakea, Chun’s reef.”

Conditions were so dangerous, Ocean Safety pulled lifeguards from their posts in some areas.

“There’s nobody on the beaches right now. Lifeguards are keeping off the beaches themselves because it … causes them a lot of risk to be on the beaches as well,” Rigg said, adding that the tower at Laniakea Beach, “is experiencing a lot of wave surge. The foundation of the tower is becoming more undermined. The foundation itself is becoming exposed. The tower is still erect, and stable, and safe to operate out of, but we’re monitoring the situation closely.”

A wave knocked a lifeguard off his all-terrain vehicle Monday morning as he warned the public to stay off the beach, Rigg reported. He was not hurt.

Makapuu Beach Park is also closed after a boat broke loose from its mooring and washed ashore. No one was on board, but the boat “washed into the surf zone at Makapuu where the waves were reaching 15 feet, probably almost 30-foot faces. It broke in half and the bow, from what I understand, is currently on the beach and there’s debris all along the beach there,” Rigg said.Surf conditions and forecast

A high surf warning for north- and west-facing shores of Oahu, Kauai, Molokai and Niihau, as well as north-facing shores of Hawaii Island and Maui, has been issued until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

A combination of strong northwest winds associated with a fast-moving cold front and a very large wintertime northwest swell is generating life-threatening surf along most north- and west-facing shores of the smaller islands.

Waves were expected to reach 45 to 55 feet, with west-facing shores of Oahu and Molokai at 25 to 35 feet.

“The buoys offshore are telling us this swell is not stopping. It’s continuing to remain large through the rest of the day, overnight, into tomorrow and probably through the rest of the week,” Rigg said.

Meanwhile, a high surf advisory remains in effect for west-facing shores of Maui and Hawaii island, and east-facing shores of Oahu, also until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

On the westside, surf got up to 30-40 feet at Makaha Beach with water washing over the roadway. Ocean Safety reported the following statistics:

  • North Shore: Rescues 0, Preventative Actions ~950
  • West Side: Rescues 6, Preventative Actions ~1,000
  • East Side: Rescues 115, Preventative Actions 1,250

Flooding and erosion

On Monday, the cattle gate at the main entrance to Haleiwa Alii Beach Park was secured to prevent entry until further notice. Vehicles that were parked at Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor when flooding occurred were removed.

But flooding is not the only concern.

“It will certainly cause erosion along affected shores, it will most likely scour a lot of beaches,” said meteorologist Jeff Powell. “Take a lot of sand off shore and in places where the surf break actually hits shorelines will be significant erosion.”Related Story: State addresses coastal erosion, offers advice to property owners

Erosion has already taken a toll at an oceanfront home along Kamehameha Highway.

The Honolulu Fire Department responded to a call at around 11:30 a.m. of major shoreline erosion.

The home’s foundation is crumbling along the coastline and a large tree was uprooted, exposing its roots and further damaging the wall that separates the property from the ocean.

No one was hurt, but the area has been roped off.

“I know that house has had some issues before with high surf,” Rigg said. “The retaining wall for that residence has been washed out, so now it’s fully exposed to the surf.”

Hawaiian Electric crews cut power to the home, and the owner evacuated Monday morning.

The following photos of Hookipa Beach Park were provided by County of Maui:

On Kauai, Ocean Safety officials are advising no swimming at all North Shore beaches, from Polihale to Anini Beach, due to high surf and dangerous ocean conditions.

Kauai Civil Defense reported coastal flooding in Hanalei Bay near the pavilion and Pine Trees (Waioli Beach Park). Similar impacts were reported in Haena.


On Sunday, the afternoon before the large faces are expected to roll in, North Shore lifeguards told KHON2 they’ve seen three big swells so far this year, all pretty gnarly.

“It’s not gonna be a day for surfing, definitely. It’s going to be big, choppy, rough. The wind is a factor. It’s not a good combo,” said Marcal.

At Rock Piles Beach, also on the North Shore, the surf was about 150 feet away from the road and lifeguards say don’t be surprised if the surf slams onto Kamehameha Highway on Monday.

“The water goes with such a power that it goes up, hits rocks on the sand, almost through the railing. There’s cars going and coming back from Sunset area, a lot of people walking and running,” said Marcal.

Besides Rock Piles, there are the other areas Ocean Safety says could see potential flooding, including Laniakea Beach, Sunset Beach, and Haleiwa Alii Beach Park.

Ocean Safety is collaborating with emergency management to help monitor the roads.

North Shore resident Cully Judd understands this. His beachfront property gets slammed when the waves are powerful.

“There’s been times where big surf has come into the property wash through,” Judd said.

The house next to him put out sandbags to prepare for the expected swell.

“Sometimes they evacuated people. When it gets real bad. We’ll see what happens. Just cross our fingers, but it can be catastrophic,” Judd said.

Judd says if worse comes to worst, “keep the car pointed out the driveway and the key in the ignition!”

Lifeguards are stressing good judgement, recommending no surfing or swimming on the North Shore Monday, and if you are coming to watch the waves please watch from afar.

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