The Meteorology of the 2023 Maui Wildfire

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 talk will describe 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.

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