In 1996, I was transferred from California to Maui on a
temporary assignment. My company had a real estate agent who recommended a
smallish sixth floor beach front condo about five miles from my office in Kihei.
It was adequate and appropriate for a temporary assignment but rather expensive.
After four weeks I found a condo about six miles from the office that was
cheaper and available for four months – the owners came back in the winter.
That would get me through the temporary assignment. I didn’t spend a lot
of time researching for either of these condos. It didn’t seem worthwhile
for the period of time involved.
Toward the end of the four month condo lease I was taken
off TDY and transferred to the Kihei subsidiary of my company. Again,
without much thought, I found an unfurnished condo just four blocks from where I
was. The primary qualities were unfurnished (since I was about to move all
my junk to Maui) and proximity to my office.
During the four months in the second condo, I had learned
that the Sugar Beach area was inundated parts of the year with midges or gnats,
probably due to the wetlands inland from that beach. The bugs of Sugar
Beach caused me to discount that area as a residence.
I also learned that the winds through the flatland
thought of as “the valley” come roaring out at Maalaea and bring with it the
dust from agriculture and worse, the ash from cane fires. I visited a
condo in Maalaea that had a fibrous material on the walls and it was black with
ash. Also Maalaea was getting a bit farther from the office.
I considered upcountry a little bit since I was spending about one day a week at
the summit, but living upcountry would mean a fair commute to the Kihei office 4
out of 5 days.
By this time I had heard and experienced “It never rains in Kihei” but I really
didn’t think of that as a factor in location.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot and learned slowly.
I noticed that almost every time we golfed on West Maui we got wet. In
fact the West Maui Mountains always got lots of rain.
I noticed lots of good sized drainage ditches, even in
Kihei, and finally figured it out. Wailea and Kihei are on the leeward
side of Maui and in the rain shadow of Mt. Haleakal?. The normal rain
pattern brings rain in from the northeast, dumps it on the windward side as the
clouds climb the mountain, and leaves little for us. However, once in a
while a system comes up from the south. With the broad expanse of the
mountain collecting water and draining it toward us and the ocean, look out!
Even with these huge drainage structures, flash flooding is an issue.
A portion of South Kihei Road just north of the Kihei Post Office often suffers
from flooding due to the overflow from drainage ditches.
At some point I learned that the area I spent most of my
time in was called South Maui or the leeward side of Maui.
South Maui requires irrigation for anything to grow – the
ranch just mauka of Piilani highway dries to fire danger when it goes for any
length of time without rain. In contrast, the developed area near and
makai of Piilani is highly irrigated and always lush.
The green portion of this chart is what is commonly called South Maui and
comprises an area that has a somewhat common weather forecast.
Over the years many hurricanes have slid past Maui on the
North or South side. We’ve had tsunami warnings that didn’t amount to much
but would have had to be enormous to reach my place.
The above is a tsunami evacuation map for my area.
Brown area is tsunami evacuation zone, yellow is extreme tsunami evacuation zone
and green is the safe zone. The P in the center is approximately where I
live. I’d guess it is more than 100’ above sea level.
I slept through the “Incoming Missile” alert on Hawaii,
but I don’t know what I would have done if I had been awake. I haven’t
found a Missile evacuation map
Now, after years of living here, I realize how fortunate
I am to be living in South Maui. Hurricane Lane just threatened us.
We had Hurricane Watches and Warnings, Flash Flood Warnings, government offices
closed, schools closed, businesses closed and boarded up, shelters opened,
airline schedules late and cancelled, domestic and military ships put to sea for
safety – loaded, empty or half and half, and a general state of lock down.
I prepared myself by taking in the patio chairs, overturning the patio tables,
putting my ginger plant in her traveling pants up close to the wall, filling
some plastic jugs with water, laying in 6 cans of spam, 27 rolls of TP, 3 jugs
of mai tai mix, and a variety of canned and frozen goods that don’t need
The result? Lane slid by South of Maui. The
North and West parts of Maui got LOTS of rain, flooding, some wind, and a severe
wildfire up by Lahaina in an area that unfortunately had very little rain but
lots of wind. My area had general overcast, no wind, no flooding, and only
about 1” of rain when Lane was at the end of the threat period.
Years ago, if I were to have picked a section of Maui to
settle in, a thorough study of the weather element would have likely led me to
choose South Maui. Natives often say “Lucky we live Hawaii”. I say
“Lucky I live South Maui!” And the fact is, it
was just luck.
Lane did have an impact on me. After waiting all
year for the new University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Women’s Volleyball season
to start, Lane forced cancellation of the first preseason tournament.
Three of the four teams were coming from the mainland, of course, and two of
them either had transportation issues or elected not to challenge nature.
The team from mid-America got here early. They did arrange two back to
matches and wiped out the Wahine in both of them. Sigh!
Soon after Lane brushed by to the South of the Islands,
Tropical Storm Olivia made landfall on West Maui. Once again, my South
Maui was minimally impacted.
Over the years, treatment of the wetlands by Sugar Beach has ameliorated the
midge issue and of course the discontinuation of the Maui sugar cane industry
and cane burning has greatly lessened the dust and ash in winds through Maalaea.
However, South Maui defined by Kihei and Wailea remains my favorite!