NOAA: Above average rainfall expected for wet season, not enough to help Maui drought

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — NOAA released its wet season rainfall outlook for the State of Hawaii on Friday, which predicts above-average rainfall throughout the wet season.

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Wet season typically begins in October and lasts through April. Due to La Nina conditions, the state will start to see more rainfall towards December.

“The model projection is starting off-dry in October, transitioning in November, and then really starting to get above-average rainfall from December onwards,” explained Kevin Kodama, who is a senior service hydrologist at the Honolulu Forecast Office.

The current conditions are likely to continue through spring 2021. However, the strength of La Nina will influence which portions of the island sees the most rain.

The rain can’t come soon enough for ranchers and farmers who have been devastated by prolonged drought conditions, especially on Maui.

“For some ranchers, the drought is getting dire,” explained Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council Managing Director Nicole Galase. “They are, for a short period of time, able to strategically graze on certain grasses and be able to last for a little while that way. Well, once there’s a couple years in a row of drought, you run into trouble.”

La Nina events bring wetter conditions to the state.  

Strong La Nina events bring a higher chance of rainfall for windward slopes. Whereas weaker La Nina brings significant rainfall to leeward sides.

“Right now, the projections show that this one could be a pretty significant event on the stronger side,” explained Kodama. “If that’s the case, then, unfortunately, there is a chance that the strong drought we’re seeing on Maui, it could persist.”

Although Maui County will see rainfall this wet season, it won’t be enough to push them out of their current drought of La Nina strengthens.

“There are some streams that have really only gone dry two or three times over 30 years, and this is one of those times,” said Dr. Kyle Caires, who works with the University of Hawaii Livestock Program extension program with Maui County.  

With the current conditions on Maui, it’s led to a lack of grass growth which has led to Axis Deer eating the grass in the pastures, the supplemental feeding ranchers have started to do due to the dry conditions.

“The deer have really contributed to over grazing, and without that moisture to help that grass bounce back. It’s kind of a vicious cycle,” Dr. Caires explained.  

While Maui and south Hawaii Island won’t benefit from a strong La Nina season, NOAA predicts that the western part of the state will.

“I feel more confident that places like Kauai and Oahu, which has, you know, have drought right now that we have a better chance of recovery,” Kodoma said.

NOAA also said that stronger La Nina events have higher than normal trade wind frequency which focuses rainfall on windward areas.

Drought recovery is more likely for the smaller islands like Kauai and Molokai, and over the windward slopes of Maui and the Big Island.

However, the possibility of the drought is expected to continue through the wet season, especially over the leeward areas of Maui and the Big Island.

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