Dry spell continues: Big Island rainfall totals still below average

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Hilo is on pace to have one of its drier years on record, and July’s rainfall totals brought little if any relief to drought-affected areas of the Big Island, according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

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Hilo is on pace to have one of its drier years on record, and July’s rainfall totals brought little if any relief to drought-affected areas of the Big Island, according to the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

“With more than half of 2017 in the books, rainfall totals through the end of July remained in the below-average range at most of the locations on the Big Island. … Honokaa had it’s driest July since 2004,” NWS hydrologist Kevin Kodama wrote in the monthly rainfall summary.

Honokaa’s rainfall total was 1.39 inches for the month, just 21 percent of the average 6.78 inches for July.

“It’s been pretty dry up on the Hamakua Coast and down into the leeward South Kohala district,” Kodama said Monday. “They’re considered to be under severe drought as well as the interior section of the Big Island. The eastern side of Pohakuloa Training Area has been pretty dry. The western side has been getting some spotty rain, so some of the gauges there are pretty close to normal.”

The most recent drought statement from the weather service said ranchers in leeward South Kohala “have destocked pastures” because of “very poor vegetation conditions.” It noted that pastures in Ookala, where Big Island Dairy operates, and in Paauilo were becoming dry, and a ginger farmer in Umauma reported stunted growth in his crops.

One area on the island where the rainfall is close to average is the Kona coffee belt. Waiaha is at 95 percent of its average annual rainfall total, while Kealakekua and Kainaliu’s rainfall totals are at 84 percent of the yearly norm.

“They’re in pretty good shape. It is their wet season right now, so everything is pretty much in line with expectations,” Kodama said. “But everybody else on the Big Island is at some level of drought, and windward Kohala is abnormally dry, but they’re not considered to be in drought.”

According to Kodama, East Hawaii is in moderate to severe drought, with Hilo in moderate drought. Hilo International Airport received 7.14 inches of rain in July, 66 percent of its average rainfall for the month, and stood at month’s end at 44.74 inches for the year, 64 percent of the norm of 70.09 inches.

“You’re not on pace to break any records but on pace to be one of the drier years on record,” Kodama said. “I wouldn’t be too concerned about it at this point because you can get a lot of rain in the November and December time frame on the Hilo side.”

Hilo’s driest year on record was 2010, with 63.32 inches, less than half the average yearly rainfall of 129 inches.

“That was part of a string of dry years when the summer months were very dry — kind of like this year, actually,” Kodama noted. “You had about the normal amount of rainy days, but the amount of rain per day was well below average.

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“Just looking at straight numbers can be deceptive at times. You can have a lot of rainfall all at once and then long periods when there’s no rain at all. And drought is really dependent on the impact that it causes. As far as impacts, there have been some impacts to agriculture, but not at a level that’s more than moderate (drought). And there’s been an uptick in water hauling for catchment folks. But you got fairly regular rain in July, especially the last half of July, so I haven’t heard too much for that side.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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