Sunday | January 22, 2017
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Drought conditons persist on Big Isle

November was a particularly dry month for Hawaii Island providing little relief from a drought that has left little of the island untouched.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Senior Hydrologist Kevin Kodama, though, sees some chance of relief if storm systems in the Pacific Ocean are pushed south and east into the island chain — something that hasn’t happened yet this season. The state’s usual wet season, which begins in October, is now two months overdue, he said.

“We’re just not seeing the weather systems that we normally do at this time of year,” he said, explaining that a cold front passage the state normally sees in October didn’t arrive. “Over the ocean, between Kauai and Midway, there’s a lot of systems going through the area, but they develop and move up north and toward Alaska, missing Hawaii.”

In the coming week, Kodama said a low-pressure system may reach the state, but weather models are not definitive whether it will actually reach the island chain. He added that the island so far this year hasn’t received a widespread, lengthy rainfall.

“That’s the plan,” he said when asked if relief might be in sight for the Big Island. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee. The normal rainy season for Hawaii Island runs between October and April with the exception of the Kona area, which sees its rainy season during the summer months of June and July.

Six areas in West Hawaii saw less than 10 percent of normal rainfall during November while another nine areas saw less than 20 percent of normal rainfall for the month, according to Kodama. The areas receiving the lowest amount of rainfall, starting with the least are: Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which saw just 1 percent of normal rainfall; Waikoloa; Nene Cabin; Kaupulehu; Kona International Airport; and Kahuku Ranch.

Islandwide for the month, only two locations, Puuwaawaa and Kawainui Stream, received above-normal rainfall totals, he said, noting the rain fell at higher elevations and was sporadic and not widespread. Elsewhere, only three locations, Upolu Airport, east Waimea and Honaunau, received 50 percent or more of normal rainfall.

This year two areas have received less than 20 percent of normal rainfall: Kaupulehu in North Kona and Kahuku Ranch in Ka‘u. Outside those areas, West Hawaii rainfall totals through November ranged from a low of 24 percent of normal on the western side of Pohakuloa Training Area to a high of 141 percent of normal precipitation at Kawainui Stream.

With the continuing lack of rain, the state’s drought situation appears to be worsening, according to a review of more than a year’s worth of data provided by the U.S. Drought Monitor, which is kept by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As of Thursday, the monitor indicated conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought islandwide.

Areas considered in extreme drought, which causes major crop/pasture losses, widespread water shortages or restrictions, include most of South Kohala, portions of North Kona and portions of south Hawaii, spanning primarily the coastline from the Manuka area to Hoonoua.

The area of extreme drought has expanded nearly every month since January, according to the data. In addition, areas near the extreme drought area, often mauka, are listed as suffering severe drought.

Outside of those areas, the majority of the island, including portions of North and South Kona, Ka’u, North Kohala, Hamakua, Puna and North and South Hilo, is experiencing a moderate drought, which means some damage to crops and pastures is possible as well as low water levels in streams, reservoirs and wells.

Only two areas of the island are considered abnormally dry (going into or coming out of drought): portions of the Hamakua and North Hilo coasts as well as South Kona, spanning from about Kealakekua to Milolii.

He said only a day or more of steady rain would improve the drought conditions. Such a rain hasn’t occurred on Hawaii Island this year, he said, noting that most of the rainfall activity has been “spotty.”

“We’ve been in D-2 status (severe drought) at least some place in the state since June 2008,” Kodama said. “This drought is a big event, especially when people talk about the 1998-2001 drought, because this one’s starting to beat it.”

A check of the monitor found Feb. 26, 2008 was the last time no area in the state was suffering drought conditions. By the next month, Hawaii Island was considered abnormally dry and by May drought had hit the island. Severe drought hit the Kohalas in July, and, by year’s end, no area of the island was left untouched and the Kohalas were considered in extreme drought.