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LIHUE, Kauai — On Monday morning, a renowned Kauai landscape photographer, Aaron Feinberg, opened a Facebook page he maintains and reviewed the implications of gathering clouds that had led to flood warnings for Kauai and Oahu.
“Here we go! Another potential heavy rain event about to unfold across the islands,” he wrote. “While the last front was a bit wet, it was mostly a dud … this one seems to want to pack more of a punch.
“As always it will be VERY difficult to predict when and where heavy rain will happen (more than one to six hours in advance) but will post as necessary this week. Winter … is here.”
And with that, Feinberg laid out the case for why people should take seriously a National Weather Service statement cautioning that difficult weather circumstances are likely to prevail until at least Thursday.
The Facebook page is called aFein Weather. A loyal cadre of fans treats it as the weather gospel — at least for Kauai.
Along the way, Feinberg has become an outspoken critic of what he calls weather conspiracy theories that postulate that “the government” controls the weather and, for example, steers hurricanes. It’s a contention, he said, that’s “just ridiculous.”
Kauai photographer Aaron Feinberg, holding a home weather station, has become a go-to source for local weather forecasts.
Allan Parachini/Civil Beat
Despite its growing popularity on Facebook, aFein Weather remains largely off the radar of the National Weather Service. Kevin Kodama, a forecaster in Honolulu who does monthly analyses of rain patterns in Hawaii, hadn’t heard of him.
“I imagine other weather experts provide additional viewpoints on what’s going on, but since I don’t follow any on social media I really don’t have a feel for what kind of service they provide,” he said.
Feinberg’s involvement with the weather began in the early 2000s, he recalled in a wide-ranging lunch interview recently. He was a student in the Atmospheric Science and Meteorology program at the State University of New York campus in Albany. He graduated in 2004.
At about the same time, Feinberg got interested in photography. “I remember having a digital point and shoot,” he said. “I remember running around and taking pictures of things.”
He was “ski-bumming” at a resort in Utah at the time, he said. He moved to Portland and then back to Utah. But then one day, a friend offered him a job working at a restaurant in Princeville on Kauai.
Feinberg says his photography business was doing great until COVID-19 hit.
He built a solid photography business, eventually operating galleries at three locations on Maui and Kauai. Only two Kauai locations — in Poipu and Hanalei — remain and both have been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, he moved much of his photography business online at afeinbergphotography.com.
He’s particularly known for landscapes and seascapes, many of which also include female models. He’s been a regular at the Burning Man festivals in Nevada and, annually produced powerful images of that festival. It wasn’t held this year due to COVID-19.
“The gallery business was kind of out of necessity because in 2008-2009, I was starting to get better at the photo thing and I was selling decently on the street,” he said. “The galleries were raging successes for a while, but tastes change in the art world. In about 2017, sales went completely off a cliff on Kauai.”
The business started to recover, but then COVID-19 struck.
“So now, like most people, I’m kind of flailing around trying to figure out how do we get through this,” he said.
Despite the vicissitudes of the art market, Feinberg said the fascination with climate that drew him into meteorology in the first place remained. He started the Facebook page about four years ago.
“I’ve still been connected to the weather the whole time. People would generally holler, ‘Hey, I need weather help. What’s the real deal?’” he said. “There’s a lot of sensationalism in the weather, whether it being from media playing it up or people not understanding what’s going on.”
But he still couldn’t pull the trigger on going public with his forecasting expertise. A friend finally forced the issue by setting the page up on Facebook without telling him.
Feinberg says he’s moved much of his photography business online and is now thinking of monetizing his Facebook weather forecasts.
“One day, I’m sitting at home and I get a notification through Facebook like, ‘You’re now the administrator of aFein Weather,’” he said. “Weather is really complicated. It’s a giant, fluid dynamic system and it’s not just on one plane because the atmosphere is many miles deep.”
So aFein Weather became, Feinberg said, “a way for me to talk directly to people in kind of layman’s terms about what’s going on. It’s kind of caught on, especially over the last few years with storms bumping up and around. When we have severe weather, it’s just a way of getting the word out and explaining things to people.”
When hurricanes threaten, Feinberg’s page can have 11,000 visits a day. Along the way, he’s made it a mission to debunk disinformation and misinformation about the climate.
“I want to dispel some of these ridiculous conspiracy theories of how and why storms are doing what they’re doing and people thinking that, somehow, the weather is controlled by the government,” he said.
“That proposition is so absolutely ridiculous because of the complexity and how insanely nuanced our entire weather system is. For us to think as humans that we can control such a thing would be such hubris,” he said. “The idea of steering an entire tropical system that could power the entire globe if we were able to harness it is just ridiculous.”
It’s widely believed in some circles, he said, that “the government” steers storms away from Kauai, in particular.
“It’s guaranteed that everything will happen in the universe at some point, so, yes, we’re going to get hit again at some point,” Feinberg said.
He’s thought about monetizing his Facebook page and is dabbling in creating merchandise to sell there. But nothing has materialized yet.
“Each island is so nuanced,” he said. “Our microclimates are very, very specific, so Kauai weather is very different from Oahu.”
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