HONOLULU — Towering waves on Hawaii’s south coast slammed into homes and businesses over the weekend, pouring down highways, and disrupting weddings.
The large waves — some more than 20 feet (6 meters) high — came from a combination of a strong southerly swell that peaked Saturday night, especially high tides and rising sea levels linked to climate change, the National Weather Service said Monday.
A Saturday night wedding in Kailua-Kona was interrupted when a series of large waves washed over the event, pounding tables and chairs at the guests.
Sara Ackerman, an author who grew up in Hawaii and attended the wedding, filmed the waves as they came ashore.
“It was just huge,” she said. “I was filming it and then it just came over the wall and just destroyed all the tables and chairs.”
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She said it happened about five minutes before the ceremony was due to begin.
“It was not a life-threatening situation in any way,” she said. “It was like, ‘Oh my god…what are we going to do? Where are we going to set 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 ocean was really wild. So it was great for the photos.”
Chris Brenchley, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s office in Honolulu, said several factors came together to create such huge waves.
“Waves over 12 or 15 feet, those get extremely big and really rare to have,” he said. “It’s the biggest it’s been in decades.”
Brenchley said the swell was produced in the South Pacific, where it is currently winter season.
“They had a particularly strong winter storm where the winds were directed directly to places like Samoa and then further north to Hawaii,” he said.
Remains from Hurricane Darby passed south of Hawaii but didn’t have a major impact on the surf, he said.
While singular events like these are difficult to relate directly to climate change, Brenchley said the warming planet is playing a role.
“The most direct impact we can use in climate change is sea level rise. Every time you add even a small amount of water, you raise the sea level a little bit,” he said. “And now those effects will worsen when we have a major storm event or a … high tide, high tide.”
Most big summer waves coming in from the south are no bigger than about 10 feet, which would cause a high surf recommendation.
“We had some waves that reached 20 feet, 20 feet plus even,” Brenchley said. “That gets to the level of historical.”
The north coast of Hawaii, where professional surfers often compete, usually gets much bigger waves than other parts of the islands. The predominant swell hits the north coast in winter and south coast in summer.
Rescuers and rescuers across the country had a busy weekend.
On the island of Oahu alone, they made at least 1,960 rescues on Saturday and Sunday.
Honolulu officials reported a serious injury when a surfer suffered a laceration to the back of his head.