Drought likely for Hawaii as NOAA predicts drier-than-normal wet season

Local News

After experiencing the wettest summer in decades, Hawaii is about to get the exact opposite.

This year’s dry season, which was between the months of May and September, ended up being very wet. NOAA says most locations experienced near- to above-average rainfall, making Hawaii drought-free for the first time since April 2008.

August and September have been the wettest on record for some areas, with some monthly totals more than doubling the previous records.

Nalo Farms lost tens of thousands of dollars this past summer, because numerous storms damaged crops.

“We’re pretty much back to normal right now,” said Dean Okimoto of Nalo Farms.

“So you’re back at the farmers’ markets, back in the stores and restaurants?” KHON2 asked.

“Yes, yes. We just got back in last week,” he replied.

Forecasters say El Nino led to above-average tropical cyclone activity near Hawaii and above-average sea surface temperatures, which helped increase rainfall.

Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the state is in store for a drier-than-normal wet season, again thanks to El Nino.

Forecasters predict the upcoming wet season, from October through April 2016, will provide significantly lower rainfall totals, especially between December and April.

Experts predict many areas could see less than 50 percent of average rainfall.

“El Nino’s in place and it’s supposed to get even stronger,” said NOAA hydrologist Kevin Kodama. “Once we start getting into the winter months, especially those sectors that are vulnerable to short-term rainfall, shortages — for instance for those on water catchment systems or anybody who depends on stream-flow type for their water source or pastures for instance — because the conditions are going to change fairly rapidly if you depend on fairly regular rainfall, especially in the winter months, then you’re going to start seeing shortages or impacts.”

Widespread drought is expected by the end of April, with some areas experiencing severe or extreme drought conditions.

“We’re hoping that at least with the wetness right now maybe that’ll delay the impacts,” Kodama said.

El Nino years have been linked to some of the driest years for Hawaii because it reduces the state’s two primary sources of rain. It cuts much of our trade wind days, and fewer trade wind days mean less windward showers.

Cold fronts or winter storms that dip down toward the state provide another source of rain during the wet season.

During El Nino, the storms remain farther to the north. With less of them, leeward areas could dry up.

Hawaii will likely get a few cold fronts and some trade winds days, but not as much as usual.

A Board of Water Supply spokeswoman says the utility doesn’t expect a major conservation request thanks in part to this summer’s heavy rains.

For Okimoto, a dry season means using more water for crops, and paying more on his water bill.

He says a higher water bill combined with the loss during the summer could mean higher prices for his customers, between five and eight percent.

“At some point you’ve got to pass along some of the costs and it’s getting to the point where we’re probably looking at raising prices in the near future,” Okimoto said.

Dry conditions could also lead to an earlier start to the brush fire season, possibly in the spring versus summer.

However, forecasters also stress that isolated heavy rain events are possible Hawaii must be prepared. Keep gutters and drainage ditches clear, and don’t drive on roads with fast-flowing water.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. Always stay tuned, stay prepared, and we could be looking at a late season and even out of season systems,” Kodama warned. “You might get an isolated storm event pop through so just know what to do especially if you’re going to be out hiking it might be nice one day or it might have a storm come through.”

Kodama also predicts a higher probability of large surf events, especially in January and February.

“Even in December, we start seeing pretty big surf so with El Nino, we’re looking at pretty large swells coming in but especially during December through February,” he said.

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