Big Waves in Hawaii Partly Attributed to Rising Sea Levels

HONOLULU — Towering waves on Hawaii’s south shores crashed into homes and businesses, spilled across highways and upended weddings over the weekend.

The large waves — some more than 20 feet (6 meters) high — came from a combination of a strong south swell that peaked Saturday evening, particularly high tides and rising sea levels associated with climate change, the National Weather Service said Monday.

Kailua Kona’s Saturday wedding was disrupted by large waves that flooded in, sending the tables and chairs flying towards guests.

Sara Ackerman was an author from Hawaii who attended the wedding and filmed them as the waves crashed ashore.

“It just was huge,” she said. ”I was filming it and then it just came over the wall and just completely annihilated all the tables and chairs.”

It happened five minutes prior to the scheduled start of the ceremony, she said.

“It wasn’t like a life-threatening situation by any means whatsoever,” she said. “It was just like, ‘Oh my gosh … what are we going to do? Where are we going to put the tables?’”

After the couple exchanged vows, she said that they continued with the ceremony.

“We had the ceremony and it was beautiful, having all the (sea) spray,” she said. “The ocean was really wild. So it was great for the photos.”

Chris Brenchley is the National Weather Service meteorologist responsible in Honolulu. He said that several factors contributed to the creation of such large waves.

“Waves over 12 or 15 feet (3.66 or 4.57 meters), those become extremely big and really rare to have,” he said. “It’s the largest it’s been in several decades.”

Brenchley said the swell was produced in the South Pacific, where it’s currently the winter season.

“They had a particularly strong winter storm where the winds were focused directly towards places like Samoa and then further on to the north into Hawaii,” he said.

According to him, remnants from Hurricane Darby passed southward but didn’t have any major impacts on the surf.

Brenchley stated that the climate is changing, but not in a single instance.

“The most direct type of impact that we can use with climate change is the sea level rises. Any time you add just even small amounts of water, you raise that sea level just a little bit,” he said. “And now those impacts will be exacerbated whenever we have a large storm event or a … high, high tide.”

Large summer swells from the South are usually no more than 10ft (3m) in height, which could trigger high surf advisories.

“We had some waves that were reaching 20 feet (6 meters), 20 feet-plus even,” Brenchley said. “That’s getting on the level of historic.”

Hawaii’s north shores, where professional surfers often compete, usually get much larger waves than other parts of the islands. The north shores receive the most swell in winter while the south shores experience the summer swell.

The weekend was busy for rescue and lifeguard crews throughout the state.

On Saturday and Sunday, they conducted at most 1,960 rescues alone on Oahu.

Officials in Honolulu reported that a surfer sustained a serious injury to his back when it was lacerated.

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