Categorized | News, Weather

On drought scale, parts of island hit bottom

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor

According to the latest report, western parts of the Big Island are experiencing “exceptional” drought levels, while other parts from Ka‘u to Honokaa remain in the “extreme” category.

The island that has most of the state’s agriculture now is about the driest area in the entire country. Conditions are the worst in more than a decade, according to state and national sources.

Kevin Kodama, National Weather Service senior hydrologist, said the D0 to D4 scale measures rainfall, but also takes into account impacts of the drought, including water levels in reservoirs and streams, and crop and pasture losses. D0 indicates an abnormally dry area, while D4 reflects a region experiencing an exceptional drought event

South Kohala has been hit hardest and is classified as D4 and most of Ka‘u, North Kona and South Kona – the coffee belt – is at D3, or extreme drought conditions.

“I’ve seen droughts before, that for certain, but the way this one hit …” Kodama said. “Last year, they (Kohala and Kona farmers and ranchers) started the summer pretty dry and then the Big Island never got its normal fall and winter rainfall.

“There’s a narrow window there, between October and mid-December, for drought recovery,” Kodama said. “That didn’t happen. They never got any noticeable drought relief. If just went from bad to worse.”

The tough times are not limited to one crop or area, he said, but is impacting everything — livestock, ornamental horticulture, fruits, vegetables and coffee.

“Across the board, they are getting hit hard. On the Kona side, the coffee folks are having a hard time,” he said. “I’ve talked to guys who’ve been there 15 years, 20 years, 30 years and they are telling me it’s the worst they’ve seen.”

And, Kodama said, there may be little relief coming as El Nino — or anomalously warm ocean waters in the equatorial Pacific— conditions are hanging around.

“We’re getting out of the wet season, so we’re not looking at drought relief,” he said.

One bright spot might be the Kona coffee belt of Kealakekua, Captain Cook and Honaunau. The slopes of South Kona is the only region in the state that experiences its rainy months in June, July and August.

“That would help provide some relief, but it remains to be seen,” he said.

Kodama, a Hilo native, said he has talked to farmers, ranchers and gardeners on the Big Island who are reporting trees are dying.

“And trees are usually pretty resilient. They can dig deep for water,” he said. “But trees are dying and that’s pretty amazing to me.”

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), nearly 8 percent of the U.S. (including Hawaii, Alaska and Puerto Rico) was experiencing moderate to severe drought as of March 30.

Drought afflicted 57 percent of Hawaii’s land cover, with part of the northern portion of the Big Island moving into exceptional drought at the beginning of the month for the first time since the inception of the USDM in 1999.

And, at the same time farmers and ranchers are worried about enough of wet stuff, there is freezing rain and snow atop Mauna Kea. ( Springtime snow in Hawaii )

The U.S. Drought Monitor …

provides a weekly overview of where drought is emerging, lingering, subsiding, or forecast in the United States.

The map is based on a multi-index classification system; check out Drought Monitor: State-of-the-Art Blend of Science and Subjectivity for a more detailed explanation of the map and this system. Users can compare the current week’s map with the previous week’s map using the link directly under the current map. Past Drought Monitor maps (back to August 1999) are archived on this site, and users can also view 6-week and 12-week animations of the map.

The Monitor is produced jointly by the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

The Drought Impact Reporter…

is an interactive tool developed by the NDMC to collect, quantify, and map reported drought impacts for the United States. The Drought Impact Reporter was created in response to the need for a national drought impact database.

A risk management approach to drought management, which strongly emphasizes improved monitoring and preparedness, requires timely information on the severity and spatial extent of drought and its associated impacts. The information provided by the Drought Impact Reporter will help U.S. policy and decision makers identify what types of impacts are occurring and where.

Information for the impact report database comes from a variety of sources, including on-line drought-related news stories and scientific publications, reviewed by NDMC staff; members of the public who visit the website and submit a drought-related impact; members of the media; and members of government agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

— Find out more:
National Weather Service, Honolulu:
U.S. Drought Monitor:

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