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Rainy weather helping to ease drought in West Maui

By BY LOUISE ROCKETT - | Mar 26, 2021

Kevin Kodama is the Senior Service Hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Hawaii. For the past 23 years, Kodama has been the only NWS hydrologist in the Pacific Region. PHOTO BY THE NWS.

Although current weather conditions are not conducive to spring break campouts or sunny days at the beach, there is a positive to all of this wet, West Maui.

The National Weather Service (NWS) captured the good news with this six-word headline in their March 11 Drought Information Statement: “Rainfall brings drought relief to Maui County.”

With flash flood alerts droning from our cell phones with warnings like “turn around — don’t drown,” drought relief would appear to be the least of our concerns at the end of the wet season in April this year.

The announcement further advised, “The recent wet weather pattern over the main Hawaiian Islands should continue to produce improvements in vegetation conditions in the drought-afflicted areas of leeward Maui County over the coming weeks.”

Mauna Kahalawai is shaded with greens again; rainbows color the valley cloudscapes.

Kevin Kodama is the Senior Service Hydrologist for the NWS in Hawaii. For the past 23 years, Kodama has been the only NWS hydrologist in the Pacific Region.

Among his many responsibilities, he helps the layman to better understand the climate cycles that impact our daily lives year after year — La Nina, El Nino and ENSO Neutral (neither La Nina or El Nino).

In a webinar posted by NOAA in October 2020, https://www.bigislandvideonews.com/2020/10/16/video-hawaii-wet-season-outlook-la-nina-forecast/, Kodama explained the May through September 2020 dry season climate conditions leading up to the 2020-21 winter La Nina event.

The hydrologist advised: “Most areas of the state did start the dry season drought-free because of wet conditions earlier in the year. The big exception was Maui County; that’s because they had a dryer wet season than the 2019/2020 wet season compared to other counties, so they got a head start as far as drought impacts.

“By the end of September,” Kodama continued, “they ended up with the worst drought conditions across the state in some areas, especially the leeward areas of Molokai and Maui. They ended up with D3 conditions. which is the extreme drought category on the U.S. Drought Monitor Map.”

It was the 11th driest dry season over the last 30 years.

“It is not really close to record-breaking by any means,” Kodama explained. “However, I think there are a couple of factors in play as far as the perception from the public. It’s the intensity of the drought late in the dry season last year; August and September were extremely dry. I think that really stands out in people’s minds.”

The slopes of the West Maui Mountains were crackly-brown, the threat of wild brush fires ever-present.

The La Nina wet season (October through April) weather cycle is coming to a close in a little over a month.

Kodama assessed the outcome of the forecasts made in October 2020 and potential predictions going forward in an interview with Lahaina News.

“I guess, generally speaking, it was according to plan. It was a little dryer than I thought it would be during December and into the early part of January. The drought was getting pretty bad in Maui County; but since then, it is trending wetter.

“Definitely since mid-January,” Kodama added, “we’ve had several rain events across the state. The one last week was the biggest one. It got into the leeward areas of all the counties, and so this is going to be helpful as far as removing the drought.

“It takes some time to see how the effects pan out. Just on the face of it, with the fair amount of rain coupled with the improvements that we already have been seeing over the past month-and-a-half or so, we could completely get rid of drought across the state. So that’s a good thing.”

“In terms of probabilities,” Kodama said, “March is typically wet, one of the more active months in the state. In April, we start trending downward.”

Kodama stressed, “The winter months are critical for West Maui, because that’s when you count on your rainfall. When the rain fails during that time of year, it causes problems, because you go into the summer months even dryer.”

Dry season and hurricane season forecasts are not announced until May. The next Drought Information Statement will be posted on April 8 at https://w1.weather.gov/data/HFO/DGTHFO.

For additional information on current drought conditions, visit U.S. Drought Monitor:dlnr.hawaii.gov/drought.

In any case, Kodama urged the public to remain alert.

“We have a few weeks to go for the wet season. Stay prepared; don’t hike across flooded streams or drive across flooded roads, and get prepared for hurricane season. We don’t know how bad it is going to be. It just takes one. Prepare for the one regardless of what we say, how busy or quiet the season is going to be. Always be prepared for the one that might have our name on it,” he concluded.