Dry weather forecast for Merrie Monarch

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Merrie Monarch Festival offices were bustling Friday afternoon as organizers prepared for Hilo’s annual flagship event, which begins Easter Sunday and continues through next week.

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Merrie Monarch Festival offices were bustling Friday afternoon as organizers prepared for Hilo’s annual flagship event, which begins Easter Sunday and continues through next week.

There’s a lot on people’s minds, but one variable prompts little more than a shrug: the weather forecast.

“We don’t pay attention to the weather because it is what it is,” volunteer Kathy Kawelu said. “The show goes on in spite of everything … it continues no matter what.”

That type of outlook is needed for an event that typically sees at least one day of rain. But El Nino-influenced weather patterns are now creating a different forecast.

“For Hilo, March is the wettest month of the year,” National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama said. “It can get pretty rainy — but not this year.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor currently lists most of the windward side of the Big Island as an area of moderate drought.

As of Friday, Hilo had recorded 4.83 inches of precipitation this month and 9.4 inches since January. Normal levels, according to the NWS, are closer to 10 inches for March and 30 inches for year-to-date rainfall.

For some Merrie Monarch affiliates, the dry winter has been a challenge.

“It’s so dry that we needed to have irrigation,” said Eric Tanouye, owner of Green Point Nurseries. “And even if we irrigate our cut flowers, it doesn’t keep the humidity up as well, and it doesn’t soak the ground as much.”

He said it’s also been harder to maintain the acidic soil that makes plants happiest.

Green Point Nurseries, along with the Hawaii Tropical Flowers Council, donates thousands of flowers to the festival each year. Orchids and anthuriums adorn the venues and make up the complex centerpieces flanking the halau entryway. They’re also used to decorate floats in the parade.

But even though flower production was a bit lower than usual this year, don’t expect to see anything less than stunning displays.

Merrie Monarch, Tanouye said, is Hilo’s moment in the spotlight.

“It’s our time to shine,” he said.

That’s the overall forecast for festival weather as well.

The windward side received precipitation early this weekend thanks to a storm system in the western part of the state that brought 10 inches of rain to Kauai in one day. A flash flood watch was issued for the Big Island for late Friday afternoon through early this morning, and portions of Highway 19 were closed because of hazardous road conditions created by runoff.

But next week, Kodama said, “It’ll go back to being fairly light winds. The Hilo side might be getting some fog, but that would be in the interior.”

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“It’s actually looking pretty good.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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