Friday, July 12, 2013

Winds of Kohala on the Big Island of Hawaii

When we first moved to the Kohala plains near Kawaihae Bay on Hawaii Island, our friends warned us about the fierce winds that blow constantly.  They claimed the sparse population along parts of the Kohala coast is partly from the never ending wind.  We have lived in windy places before, on the mountains of Colorado and the plains of East Texas, so we were not worried about it.  Actually we were looking forward to some wind after living in Kailua Kona under the shadow of Hualalai Volcano which blocks the trade winds.

It turns out that there are often months between the strong winds in Kohala and much of the time it is only mildly breezy or completely still.  However, when the famous winds start to blow, they are indeed unique. They start up in an instant; one second it is calm and the next second there is a 45 mile an hour gale that can last a week or two.  Sometimes it is a steady wind and other times there are ferocious gusts that sound like a hurricane.  But unlike a hurricane, the winds are dry and they actually lower the humidity. These fierce winds are called mumuku.

Captain Vancouver, who visited Hawaii Island in 1793, mentioned the dangers of the mumuku winds to ships in Kawaihae Bay.  The mumuku rush furiously down the valley between Kohala and Mauna Kea mountains.   They are apparently foretold by  an illuminated streak in the sky which can only be seen inland in Waimea, where it is said the mumuku winds originate.

We were almost knocked down by the strong gusts of wind this winter which feel like a jet engine blast.   The mumuku are without a doubt the strongest gusts of wind we have ever experienced.  Though we enjoy being tossed around and feeling the incredible power of the wind now and then, we have learned to have great respect for these Kohala winds.  On mumuku days we change the route of our daily walk to avoid being killed by flying coconuts or huge tree branches crashing down on us.  We have seen trees split into pieces by the wind, branches strewn on the ground, and waves whipped into a frenzy.  Driving on the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway can be dangerous in these ferocious winds and we can’t even imagine how a motorcycle or bicycle can handle the gusts.  

The Hawaiian word for wind is makani, but the Hawaiians had unique names to distinguish the different types of winds and their locality on the island.  Ulumano are the strong southeastern winds in Ka’u and Puna.  ‘Alahonua are the light breezes in Hilo.  Naulu is the sea breeze that brings sudden rain to Kohala and Apa’apa’a are the strong winds that parch Kohala. 

Having lived in Hilo and Kona, and now Kohala, we can attest to the dramatic differences in the winds in each place.  Living on Hawaii Island in the summer without air conditioning makes any sudden breezes an incredible delight and we have come to enjoy the mumuku when they arrive.

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