Hurricane Dora Is Now A Typhoon But Did It Make The Maui Fires Worse?
Like everyone paying attention, I am simply devastated by the Maui Fires. The latest media reports confirm that at least eighty people have died. Unfortunately, that number could creep even higher. Here is a a breakdown of whether Hurricane Dora affected the Maui fires as well as an update on why the storm just made history.
First, let’s explore why the storm is now one for the record books. Hours before I wrote this, Hurricane Dora crossed the International Date Line (180° longitude). You might be saying, “So what!” Because it maintained its intensity, it transitioned from being a hurricane to a typhoon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website explains that,”In the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, the term hurricane is used….in the Northwest Pacific is called a typhoon.”
The Washington Postreports that Dora is now only the second storm on record to maintain hurricane strength from the eastern to western Pacific. In 1994, Hurricane John also made the journey across all three Pacific basins: eastern, central, and western. Dora actually has a “double ocean identify” as it started its historic trek as a seedling in the Atlantic basin during the middle of July. While this is all meteorologistically interesting, there was a lot of discussion in the media on whether Hurricane Dora made the deadly Maui fires worse.
Hurricane Dora never made landfall in Hawaii. It traversed to the south of a drought-strickened Maui. Many reports noted that winds associated with Dora likely fanned the flames. The NASA Earth Observatory website noted, “The presence of a strong high-pressure area to north of the island and Hurricane Dora to the south may have helped fuel the winds.” In the northern hemisphere, winds are circulate clockwise around high pressure systems and counterclockwise are low pressure systems like Dora. Maui was position in the strong easterly flow associated with the combined grye-like system. The analogy that comes to mind is those machines that are used to feed baseballs.
Dora likely played some role, but the net contribution are still being debated by scientists. National Hurricane Center tropical weather expert Dr. Phillippe Papin suggested that initial attribution to Dora may have been too strong. Papin points out in the thread below that the wind field of Dora was fairly compact and likely had very little influence on low-level winds in the Maui. However, the flow associated with the high pressure system seemed far more signifcant.
University of Wisconsin meteorology professor Clark Evans posted a similar analysis on the X platform. The sheer severity of the Maui fires and the persistence of Hurricane (and Typhoon) Dora will prompt several scientific studies in the coming years. It will be fascinating to see what the studies find about Dora and its role in the fires. Either way, the deadly Maui fires are gut-wrenching and illustration of how meteorology, climate and fires are entertwined.