The death toll from the Maui wildfires continues to climb. As of Tuesday morning, 99 people have died from the tragedy. As people are combing through the ashes, many are wondering- how did this happen?

While the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation, it appears it was likely a man-made accident boosted by extreme weather and environmental conditions. On Tuesday, August 8, 2023, four things came together to make the perfect storm.

  • Lack of rainfall
  • Dry vegetation
  • Low humidity
  • Gusting winds

Lack of Rainfall

It is not uncommon for Hawaii to experience drought conditions, especially now, in the dry season. Currently, much of the Hawaiian Islands are experiencing drought-like conditions. The island of Maui is seeing moderate to severe drought conditions.

Last year at this time, Hawaii’s drought numbers were much higher, with parts of Maui reaching exceptional drought, which is the top category of concern. The most recent wet season, which runs from October to April, put Lahaina at 116% of normal rainfall.

The lack of rainfall has led to dry vegetation, making the ground cover dry and brittle, primed for igniting. Hawaii is also experiencing low humidity levels, drying vegetation out even more. Relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air at a set temperature. Low humidity helps wildfires to grow.

Strong Winds

On the morning on August 8, exceptionally strong winds were blowing over Maui. Winds exceeding 80 mph were recorded. Hurricane Dora, a category 4 storm, was 700 miles south of the islands. High pressure was situated to the north of the islands.

Around the area of high pressure, winds were being pulled clockwise. Around the hurricane, or large area of low pressure, winds were spinning counterclockwise. This resulted in winds converging over the islands with a strong pressure gradient. The gusty winds weren’t because of Hurricane Dora, but rather the pressure difference from areas of high pressure and low pressure.