Severe drought returns to areas of the state

Severe drought conditions are back and the National Weather Service said things are only going to get worse. And we’re only at the start of summer.

This marks the first time since May 2014 that such conditions have been in place for the state.

The drought is particularly hitting the leeward areas of Kauai between Kalaheo and Waimea, and Maui from Kaupo to Auwahi on the southeast flank of Haleakala.

It’s already affected ranchers and farmers, and if it gets worse, residents in other parts of the state will also feel the impacts.

Some Maui residents are already undergoing voluntary water restrictions to conserve, so if this drought lingers, more residents will likely face those restrictions.

Summer has arrived and the heat is drying up the leeward areas even more so than expected. The National Weather Service said trade showers this year have been lighter and have not spread to the leeward sides.

“They’ve been dry and now they’re getting drier as you would expect,” said hydrologist Kevin Kodama, “and the outlook doesn’t look good for these areas. We’re not going to be seeing leeward rainfalls for these particular locations.

Because of El Nino conditions, the National Weather Service said that it’s not just the summer months that they’re worried about — even the fall and winter will be drier, so things can only get worse.

That’s bad news for ranchers and farmers who are just recovering from Hawaii’s seven year-drought that ended last year. The seven-year drought reached the extreme level labeled as D-4. That’s the worst level. Right now, we are facing severe drought, which is D-2.

“And the thing about once you do start getting rainfall, it takes a while to basically build the cowherds back up, and it takes about a four- to five-year period to get back to where we were and you pray that you don’t get another drought in between there,” said Alex Franco, president of Maui Cattle Company.

As for Dale Nagamine, owner of the Taro Ko Farm on Kauai, “we get taro from outside sources. It costs more and quality maybe sometimes lacking.”

The National Weather Service said residents on Hawaii Island will likely face severe drought conditions next, and if the dry conditions continue, those who depend on water catchment systems will be in trouble.

“Even the windward sides might start to dry out,” Kodama said. “We’re talking about December to January and into March and April, and so for places that depend on a catchment system, they will start seeing the impact pretty quick.

A moderate drought is covering other areas of the state, including lower Kauai from Kealia to Mana, the leeward Waianae range on Oahu, upcountry Maui, lower West Maui from Ukumehame to Lahaina, and portions of the leeward slopes on Hawaii Island.

The weather service reports that most of the windward sections of the state have been receiving adequate rainfall.

The island breakdowns:

KAUAI
Vegetation conditions in the Hanapepe area are very poor. Rainfall so far in June has been below 10 percent of average near Hanapepe and around 30 percent of average near Kalaheo.

OAHU
Along the slopes of the Waianae range, pastures are in “a degraded state” and the dry vegetation conditions pose an increased risk of brush fires.

MOLOKAI AND LANAI
No drought impacts to report.

MAUI
Ranchers operating in the Kaupo area have been forced to wean calves earlier than normal at lower weights and have been destocking pastures due to inadequate forage. There is concern that there will be insufficiend dry feed to last through the summer. Vegatation in leeward West Maui has also been very dry with an increasing risk of brush fires.

HAWAII ISLAND
Pastures on the leeward side of Waimea have been deteriorating in the face of low rainfall and constant wind.

According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, because El Nino conditions are present in the Pacific Ocean, there is an 85 percent chance those conditions will persist through the 2015-16 winter season.

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