We currently have two hurricanes bearing down on the island of Hawaiʻi. Not one, but two!
First up is hurricane Iselle, currently a category 2 storm with 110mph sustained winds. Fortunately the storm is expected to weaken and cross the island as a mere tropical storm on Thursday. The track does predict that the storm will come right over the island, bringing heavy rains and possibly damaging winds.
Behind Iselle is Julio, now 1900 miles southeast of Hilo. This storm is expected to cross the island as a hurricane, the first hurricane to hit a Hawaiian island in over two decades. This is the storm everyone is watching. It is still a bit early, the storm is not expected to arrive until Sunday. The forecasts will be interesting and well read over the coming days.
Fortunately our house is on the lee side of the island from these approaching storms, and is somewhat better sheltered than many of our neighbors. Storm preparations are quickly accomplished… Secure any outside furniture and gear, and insure we have a little extra water and propane on hand.
Preparations at the observatory are notably more complex.
The major concern is an extended power outage. We rely on long power lines that cross the saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. If one or both of these storms prove damaging the power lines are likely to be part of the damage. These lines are also likely low on the list of repairs if there is extensive damage across the island.
Yes, there is a backup generator on site with a storage tank filled with diesel. How long will it last? What if the power lines along Saddle road are damaged? The power lines to the summit may be low on the priority list to repair if there are lines down all over the island.
If we are without power for a long period, we could lose power when the generator runs out of fuel. Of first concern are the instruments… The sensitive interiors of these cameras and spectrographs are kept at cryogenic temperatures, hundreds of degrees below freezing. Without power the instruments will start to warm up. Returning the instruments to service can take weeks. The vacuum dewars will have to be pumped again to restore the high quality vacuum conditions, then the instrument carefully cooled again.
Not that we are plunging blindly into this. We have a plan. Shutting down as much as we can, with priority given to the instruments. Hopefully the worst will not occur and we can continue smoothly on. But if the island does take damage we will be prepared to weather out the worst of it and preserve the facility.