Droughts Possible on Big Island

An extremely dry January warns of dry months to come as this year’s El Nino begins to take effect on Hawaii.

According to National Weather Service data, only one of the Big Island’s 52 rain gauges recorded higher-than average rainfall in January. Every other gauge recorded less-than-average rainfall — much less, in many cases.

The Hilo International Airport rain gauge recorded 1.2 inches of rain in January, only 14 percent of its average. Pahoa received 2.3 inches, or 21 percent; Mountain View received 2.2 inches, or 16 percent; and Piihonua received 1.9 inches, or 15 percent.

Even Saddle Quarry, which typically receives the most rainfall of anywhere on the island, only saw 3.5 inches of rain last month, less than a quarter of its average rainfall.

The west side of the island fared even worse. Several rain gauges, including the Kona International Airport rain gauge, recorded total January rainfall as 0 percent of the monthly average. The Mauna Loa rain gauge recorded no rainfall at all, while Pali, which typically receives 10.5 inches in January, received 0.7 inches, or 7 percent of its average.

The most rain recorded last month was in Kawainui, which received 14 inches of rain, 104 percent of its January average. Other rain gauges around the north side of the island saw close to their average January rainfall, but still fell short.

Kevin Kodama, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service’s forecast office in Honolulu, said January’s drier weather was an effect of El Nino, the warm weather pattern that periodically affects the Pacific Ocean.

While Kodama described the weather as “El Nino-like,” because the World Meteorological Organization has not officially declared an El Nino event for 2019, he confirmed that the climate patterns for this year so far mirror those seen in previous El Nino events.

Like other El Nino events, Kodama said the dry weather of January is expected to persist until the spring, when it will gradually “fade out.”

The ongoing dry weather will be a challenge for Big Island residents who rely on catchment systems to provide water.

Beverly Medeiros, owner of Keaau water transport business J. B. Water Hauling LLC, said some families ordered as many as three shipments of water in a single month to refill their catchment tanks.

“It’s weird; there’s been like no humidity this time, not like other droughts,” Medeiros said. “That makes their tanks go down a lot faster.”

Medeiros said her business has a wait-list three days long for people requesting water, and carried more than 120 full truckloads of water — 4,000 gallons each — to customers last month.

“People need to know to be vigilant and check their tank,” Medeiros said. “When your tank is down to less than 25 percent, don’t wait to call somebody. Because we won’t be able to get you water for a couple of days.”

While the dry weather can be expected to continue for the foreseeable future, there will be “disruptions” to the pattern, Kodama said. One such disruption was the high winds and low temperatures of two weeks ago; another is the high winds that were expected this weekend.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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