Drought intensifies statewide with ‘extreme’ conditions on Hawaii Island

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The state is in need of rain, and right now, some farmers and ranchers on Hawaii Island need it the most.

“Without production, there is no livelihood,” said Lester Ueda, Hawaii County executive director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency.

Lester says the Kona coffee season was cut short, and some farmers are reporting this drought as the worst in recent memory, even worse than 2010.

Ranchers have reported a loss of mature cows. They’ve been forced to reduce herd size and feral pigs and goats are moving onto ranch lands.

“The ranchers there, because of their reduced rainfall, some of them have reduced their herds as much as 20 percent,” Lester said. “A lot of them are saying that the grass the forage actually has no nutritional value anymore.”

“We are starting to see the impacts really setting in, and it’s getting bad to the point where cattle are dying, cows are dying, and we are getting reports of that mainly from the Big Island,” said Kevin Kodama, hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

The entire state is being impacted by the drought, but Hawaii Island is being hit the hardest. Extreme drought areas on the Leeward side of the island just popped up on Thursday.

On Oahu, brush is dry, and it’s a fire risk to properties. Just last month, firefighters battled a brush fire on the slopes of Diamond Head.

In upcountry Maui, there has been an ongoing request for a voluntary 10-percent reduction in water use.

On Kauai, it is too soon to tell how much, if any, improvement in pasture conditions the late-March rainfall produced.

Not all farmers and ranchers on Hawaii Island are seeing an impact. Ranchers on the north side of the island say it’s very wet, and some farmers in Hilo say they haven’t seen a strong impact yet. However, some farmers there say, this could impact the price of crops.

The National Weather Service says the next best chance for substantial rainfall could be next season in October.

According to Kodama, “conditions got really bad over the last month. We have been expecting this over the last month with the strong El Nino, the ag sector pastures have been deteriorating over the last several weeks and months.”Related Links:

The following report was released by the National Weather Service:

Drought conditions have expanded and intensified during the past month on all four counties in the state of Hawaii. The worst degradation occurred on the Hawaii Island where extreme drought, or the D3 category on the U.S. drought monitor map, has developed over portions of the North Kona and South Kona districts. This is the first time D3 conditions have been in the state since April 8, 2014. Severe drought, or the D2 category, has spread eastward on Hawaii Island into the lower Puna district and all of the Kau district. On Kauai, severe drought appeared in mid-march along the lower elevations of the southern half of the island. Moderate drought, or the D1 category, covered the southwest half of Oahu and the west half of Molokai.

By early April, drought conditions were covering 79 percent of the state, an increase of 25 percent since the last drought information statement, and nearly half of the state was considered to be in severe drought.

A heavy rain event in late-March produced flash flooding on several of the main Hawaiian islands, but it is too soon to determine how much of an impact, if any, it had on easing drought conditions. Rainfall intensities were high and most of the water likely became runoff rather than percolating significantly into the ground. Dry conditions subsequent to the flooding along with strong winds in a cooler and drier airmass were not favorable factors for substantial easing.

Kauai: Pastures were in poor condition along the lower elevations of the south-facing slopes through mid-March. It is too soon to tell how much, if any, improvement in pasture conditions the late-March rainfall produced.

Oahu: Vegetation conditions have worsened over the past month and dry brush has spread into the lower elevations of Honolulu. A brush fire on the slopes of iconic Diamond Head is indicative of how dry the vegetation has become during what should be the wet season and now poses a fire risk to properties in an urban environment.

Molokai and Lanai: No significant changes since the previous report. Pasture and general vegetation conditions in western Molokai and Lanai are poor based on satellite-based vegetation health data.

Maui: Brush fires near Lahaina and Olowalu are indicative of the poor vegetation conditions along the leeward slopes of Maui. Otherwise there has been no significant changes since the previous report. Pastures along the leeward slopes of Haleakala remain in poor condition and large sections were unusable, especially in the area from Wailea to Kihei along the coast and upslope to the Kula Highway near Keokea and Waiohuli. The Maui County Department of Water Supply has an ongoing request for a voluntary 10 percent reduction in water use for upcountry Maui customers.

Hawaii Island: Farmers on the Kona slopes of the island have indicated that conditions are the worst in recent memory, even including 2010 which was a significant drought year for the area. Kona coffee growers have indicated that the drought will adversely affect this year’s crop. A rancher operating in the Waikii area reported the loss of several mature cows due to drought conditions and he has been forced to reduce the size of his herd. Feral pigs and goats have been moving onto ranch lands seeking out water and causing damage to fences in the process. Even in the normally wet Hilo and Puna districts, a rancher near Pahoa reported selling 20 percent of his herd due to poor pasture conditions. Another rancher who works on the upper slopes of the south Hilo district reported the loss of 28 cows due to the lack of rain and the poor forage. In upper Hilo town, an aquaculture operation lost sturgeon because of low stream flow conditions.

According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, El Nino conditions are present in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino is weakening and will likely transition to ENSO-neutral conditions (periods when neither El Nino nor La Nina is present) during the late spring or early summer of 2016 with a possible transition to La Nina conditions in the fall.

The long-lead Hawaiian islands outlook issued on March 17 by the NOAA Climate Prediction Center indicated that probabilities favor below-median precipitation through the spring and above-median temperatures through the summer. The next long-lead outlook will be issued by the Climate Prediction Center on April 21.

Data from the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that monitored streams across the state had 30-day flow levels in the near- to below-normal range. Flow levels are expected to remain in the normal- to below-normal range through the spring based on the precipitation outlook.

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