Some of the biggest waves to hit Hawaii in years began slamming onto shore Wednesday, turning beachgoers into spectators as waves up to 40 feet tall crashed into idyllic getaways.
Waves up to 50 feet high were feared on the famous North Shore of Oahu and at other islands. Beaches were closed across the island chain as the surge was expected to peak Wednesday night and remain potentially dangerous through Thursday.
Coastal roads and parking lots reportedly flooded as wind gusts up to 40 mph whipped onlookers and tore fronds from palm trees. Officials urged surfers not to risk their lives to ride the violent surges.
Danger wasn’t just on the beach: There was at least one report of a golfer hit by a tree branch.
“It’s a real mess out there,” Tom Birchard, a senior forecaster for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, told the Los Angeles Times. He said it was difficult to get a precise measure on how large the waves were because surfers weren’t on the water.
But according to one buoy northwest of the island of Kauai, the surf heading toward Hawaii was at its highest level since 1986, Birchard said.
An extreme low-pressure system brought in this week’s heavy waves. A similar high-surf event happened in 1998, Birchard said, but Wednesday’s were the largest waves of his almost 20-year career.
“We get high-surf events every year, but those usually run about 25 to 35 feet and a little bit larger,” Birchard said, noting that the waves were forecast to reach up to 50 feet in height. “This one is not only larger than normal, but it’s expected to last longer than normal.”
The spectacle was not lost on sightseers on the western and northern sides of the state’s islands, where many shared photos and video of the tremendous waves crashing ashore.