The Meteorology of the August 2023 Maui Wildfire

Clifford Mass Department of Atmospheric Sciences University of Washington Seattle, Washington

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David Ovens Department of Atmospheric Sciences University of Washington Seattle, Washington

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Abstract

On 8 August 2023, a wind-driven wildfire pushed across the city of Lahaina, located in West Maui, Hawaii, resulting in at least 100 deaths and an estimated economic loss of 4-6 billion dollars. The Lahaina wildfire was associated with strong, dry downslope winds gusting to 31-41 ms−1 (60-80 kt) that initiated the fire by damaging power infrastructure. The fire spread rapidly in invasive grasses growing in abandoned agricultural land upslope from Lahaina. This paper describes the synoptic and mesoscale meteorology associated with this event, as well as its predictability. Stronger than normal northeast trade winds, accompanied by a stable layer near the crest level of the West Maui Mountains, resulted in a high-amplitude mountain wave response and a strong downslope windstorm. Mesoscale model predictions were highly accurate regarding the location, strength, and timing of the strong winds. Hurricane Dora, which passed approximately 1300 km to the south of Maui, does not appear to have had a significant impact on the occurrence and intensity of the winds associated with the wildfire event. The Maui wildfire was preceded by a wetter-than-normal winter and near-normal summer conditions.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This is an Author Accepted Manuscript distributed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

1 Corresponding author. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA, 98195; email: cmass@uw.edu

Abstract

On 8 August 2023, a wind-driven wildfire pushed across the city of Lahaina, located in West Maui, Hawaii, resulting in at least 100 deaths and an estimated economic loss of 4-6 billion dollars. The Lahaina wildfire was associated with strong, dry downslope winds gusting to 31-41 ms−1 (60-80 kt) that initiated the fire by damaging power infrastructure. The fire spread rapidly in invasive grasses growing in abandoned agricultural land upslope from Lahaina. This paper describes the synoptic and mesoscale meteorology associated with this event, as well as its predictability. Stronger than normal northeast trade winds, accompanied by a stable layer near the crest level of the West Maui Mountains, resulted in a high-amplitude mountain wave response and a strong downslope windstorm. Mesoscale model predictions were highly accurate regarding the location, strength, and timing of the strong winds. Hurricane Dora, which passed approximately 1300 km to the south of Maui, does not appear to have had a significant impact on the occurrence and intensity of the winds associated with the wildfire event. The Maui wildfire was preceded by a wetter-than-normal winter and near-normal summer conditions.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This is an Author Accepted Manuscript distributed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

1 Corresponding author. Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Box 351640, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA, 98195; email: cmass@uw.edu
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