On Oahu, island of Hawaii, waves swamp weddings, instant rescues | News, Sports, Jobs

People walk in front of the high surf near Kapahulu Groin (Waikiki Wall) in Waikiki, Hawaii on Sunday. Craig T. Kojima Honolulu Star Advertiser photo via AP

HONOLULU — Towering waves on Hawaii’s south coast smashed into homes and businesses, sloshed over freeways and upended weddings over the weekend.

The big waves — some more than 20 feet high — came from a combination of a strong southerly swell that peaked Saturday night, particularly high tides and rising sea levels linked to climate change, the National Weather Service said Monday.

A wedding Saturday night in Kailua-Kona was cut short when a series of large waves swept through the event, smashing tables and chairs at guests.

Sara Ackerman, a Hawaiian-raised author who attended the wedding, filmed the waves as they crashed onto shore.

“It was just huge” She said. “I filmed it and then it just came over the wall and just smashed all the tables and chairs.”

She said it happened about five minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin.

“It was by no means like a life-threatening situation,” She said. “It was just like, ‘Oh my god… what are we going to do? Where are we going to put the tables?’”

She said they went ahead with the ceremony and cleaned up the mess after the newlyweds exchanged their vows.

“We had the ceremony and it was beautiful with all the (sea) spray,” She said. “The sea was really wild. So it was great for the photos.”

Chris Brenchley, the lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Honolulu office, said several factors came together to create such huge waves.

“Swells over 12 or 15 feet, they get extremely big and really hard to come by.” he said. “It’s the biggest in several decades.”

Brenchley said the swell was produced in the South Pacific, which is currently the winter season.

“They had a particularly strong winter storm where the winds were aimed straight at places like Samoa and then further north into Hawaii.” he said.

Remnants of Hurricane Darby passed south of Hawaii but didn’t have a major impact on the surf, he said.

While individual events like this are difficult to link directly to climate change, Brenchley says the warming planet plays a role.

“The most direct type of impact we can exploit in climate change is sea level rise. Every time you add even a small amount of water, you raise sea levels a little.” he said. “And now those effects are exacerbated whenever we have a major storm event or a… high, high tide.”

Most big summer waves coming in from the south are no bigger than about 10 feet, which would trigger a high surf recommendation.

“We’ve had some waves that hit 20 feet, even 20 feet and up,” said Brenchley. “This goes to the level of the historical.”

Hawaii’s North Shore, where pro surfers often compete, typically has much larger waves than other parts of the islands. The prevailing swells hit the north coast in winter and the south coast in summer.

Lifeguards and rescue teams across the state had a busy weekend.

On the island of Oahu alone, they conducted at least 1,960 rescues on Saturday and Sunday.

Honolulu officials reported one serious injury when a surfer suffered a laceration to the back of his head.

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