Hurricanes Passed

The island is still dealing with the damage wrought by Iselle. The Puna area took much of the damage with power lines down, fallen trees blocking many of the roads and damage to many houses. Fortunately there have been no reports of any deaths due to the storm. There are still thousands of residents without power as utility crews struggle to deal with the mess.

Residents on the west side saw few or no issues from the storm. We had almost no wind and just a little rain. Our precautions were totally unneeded, I guess we will use the water jugs to water the plants out front. Need to put the lanai furniture and barbeque back as well.

Despite our precautions Keck observatory has had issues due to the storm. Several systems suffered damage due to power line disruptions. We lost a motor controller in the K1 dome, I spent all of Saturday helping to replace that. Just as we were finishing repairing the dome the main breaker for the facility failed, leaving us on generator power. Waiting for word from the crew on restoring power. Until it is repaired we are off-sky. Update: Our intrepid day crew has fixed it. Yes, they are that good.

Hurricane Julio has spared the islands completely, tracking well north, far enough that we are clear of its effects. The storm is generating a big northeast swell that has the surfers looking for waves.

GEOS West 4km IR 10Aug2014
GEOS West 4km IR of hurricane Julio passing north of the islands, the remains of Iselle are seen west of Kauai

Preparing for the Hurricanes

We currently have two hurricanes bearing down on the island of Hawaiʻi. Not one, but two!

GEOS West 4km IR 5Aug2014
A GEOS infrared image of the Eastern pacific on the afternoon of August 5th. Visible are three hurricanes… Genevieve, Iselle and Julio (west to east)
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.

Hurricane Iselle Forecast
The forecast path for hurricane Iselle, 5 Aug 2014
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.