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Hawaii Drought Squeezes Agriculture, Water Supply

By By Jim Andrews, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist
August 31, 2010, 7:28:23 AM EDT

A stubborn, multi-year drought gripping nearly all of Hawaii has tightened its hold over the 50th state this summer bringing with it adverse impact to agriculture as well as the wider population.

As of Aug. 24, 97.8 percent of Hawaii was abnormally dry or in some stage of drought, according to the United States Drought Monitor.


This image appears courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is for Aug. 24, 2010. Areas in red indicate the most extreme long-term drought conditions, while areas in yellow indicate less severe drought conditions.

Drought status applied to 69 percent of the state; 30.6 percent of the land area suffered extreme to exceptional drought.

Although these indexes were unchanged versus the week before, there have showed a steady worsening trend since the start of 2010.

At the same time one year ago, drought spread over half of the state with 70 percent being abnormally dry or in drought, but land subject to the two most extreme categories was only 3.1 percent.

Drought touched every island but was most intense on the lee sides of the islands, which are normally rain shadows.

Agriculture has suffered from degraded pasture for livestock as well as cutbacks in irrigation water.

Tree crops, which include the exotic coffee, nuts and fruits for which the state is known, have been stressed. This will mean lower yields at harvest.

Domestic water supply has been curbed necessitating cutbacks in water usage.

One likely cause underpinning the widespread drought relates to the low number of Kona storms last winter.

Kona storms are deeply moist, so they often deliver soaking rain with broad coverage.

The deep moisture and more southerly steering winds allow Kona storms to water to upper slopes of the highest volcanoes, which are above the normal trade wind showers.

The steering winds of Kona storms are often southerly and southwesterly, thereby helping them to deliver rain to areas normally in the dry shadow of easterly to northeasterly trade winds.

El Nino held sway during the winter rainy season. Incidence of El Nino seems to correlate with below-normal rainfall in Hawaii.

Now, La Nina, which has officially set in this summer, has cooled the equatorial Pacific Ocean. By limiting the atmospheric water available for rain, La Nina may be helping to keep summer rainfall below normal.

However, La Nina could boost rainfall during the coming winter and thus lift the prospects for drought relief.

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