Winter wind causes minor damage to Big Island observatories

HILO — Strong winds from a winter storm caused minor damage to at least two observatories on Hawaii’s tallest peak, officials said.

The Big Island summit of Mauna Kea recorded wind gusts of 191 mph (307 kph) late Sunday, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported .

The winds blew open the front door of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, damaging its latch, said Doug Simons, executive director of the observatory. The facility’s first floor froze because of the open door and the wind chill of about minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 Centigrade), he said.

“All we could really do was monitor from a distance,” Simons said. “It was too dangerous to send anybody up.”

A team from Maunakea Support Services reached the mountain’s summit on Monday to repair the door.

“I think about half the weather stations on Mauna Kea were offline Sunday night. I’ve never seen that before,” Simons said. “That’s an indication of how harsh conditions were up there.”

The University of Hawaii’s 2.2-meter telescope had minor damage to part of the facility, university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said. The telescope is still operational.

“It was basically a roof over a storage room,” Meisenzahl said. “Part of it peeled away, so it’s going to have to be repaired.”

Weather monitoring equipment was also damaged at one of the observatories but has been repaired.

“Other than that, a couple of port-a-potties were damaged — nothing spilled out,” Meisenzahl said.

A winter storm watch remained in effect for the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa through Thursday.


Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald,


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