Hawaiʻi Island Residents Urged to Exercise Caution on Maunakea Summit
* Updated February 3, 11:40 AM
Hawaiʻi Island residents are urged to exercise caution when traveling and visiting the summit of Maunakea, which remains under a winter weather advisory until 6 a.m. on Thursday.
The National Weather Service is forecasting total snow accumulations of 2 to 4 inches, with winds gusting up to 40 mph.
Maunakea Rangers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship report that four people required medical attention this past weekend while in the summit areas.
Two individuals were injured, one seriously, while playing in the snow in separate incidents; and two other individuals suffered from altitude sickness.
Two car accidents were also reported, including an overturned vehicle. The center reports that there is normally an increase in summit traffic after a heavy snowfall.
The public is asked to remember that the summit of Maunakea can be dangerous because of the extreme altitude and weather conditions. Emergency services may be two hours away because of its remote location. Cell phone coverage is unreliable, and there is only one public emergency phone on the summit.
Rangers advise that snow on the summit will typically have a thick layer of ice on top that makes it very hard to steer or stop. “The slopes are very steep with rocky outcroppings at the bottom, which is where most serious injuries occur. It is strongly advised NOT TO USE inner tubes, boogie boards or other devices that are NOT equipped with braking or steering mechanisms,” according to a University release.
The summit elevation is 13,796 feet (4,205m), and there is 40% less oxygen available there compared to sea level. “With the greatly reduced oxygen level, visitors can experience altitude sickness that could include shortness of breath, impaired judgment, vomiting and a loss of consciousness. In extreme cases it could lead to life-threatening conditions,” rangers advise.