Drier-than-normal June in East Hawaii

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Mist settles over Hilo while rain falls throughout East Hawaii on Tuesday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Rain accumulates on hibiscus petals in Hilo on Tuesday. In the midst of a dry July, rain fell throughout the night on Monday in East Hawaii.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald A pedestrian sports a bright umbrella Tuesday on Wainaku Street in Hilo.

In the midst of a dry July, East Hawaii got a bit of a respite early this week.

Hilo International Airport received 0.88 inches of rainfall in the 24-hour period ending at 2 p.m. Tuesday. And while that might not seem like much for a town that’s essentially synonymous with rain, it’s been a drier-than-normal dry season for the windward side of the Big Island.

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Almost halfway into the month, Hilo has tallied but 2.88 inches of rain for July as of 2 p.m. Tuesday. The dry spell is a carryover from last month, as the airport gauge received but 4.46 inches of rain in June, 61% of its norm of 7.37 inches for the month.

The Hilo forecast for the remainder of the week holds out the possibility of more showers, but none are likely to offer more than a tenth of an inch of rain in a 24-hour period.

Other populated areas on the east side also were rainfall recipients, with Piihonua receiving 0.83 inches and Hakalau reporting 0.73 inches in the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

Those areas were in need of rain as Piihonua, which is mauka of Hilo, measured just 6.26 inches of rain in June, half its usual 12.41 inches for the month, and Hakalau got just 1.3 inches, less than half its norm of 2.8 inches for June.

Even Glenwood, in the upper Puna rain forest, reported 7.08 inches of rain last month, 41% of its 17.1 inches average.

No populated area in East Hawaii received above-average rainfall in June, although most windward Big Island gauges were at near- to above-average totals for the first six months of the year.

The Hilo airport year-to-date total at the end of June was 65.12 inches, almost 6 inches above average. Glenwood was just a bit below average but had still received 103.21 inches for the year. And rainfall in Hakalau, so far this year, has been particularly abundant at 73.71 inches, slightly more than twice its 36.33 inches norm.

Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, issued a July 9 statement headlined “Drought back in all four counties.”

According to Kodama, severe drought is being experienced in the lower elevations of South Kohala.

“Ground observations indicated drying vegetation along the Hamakua slopes near Paauilo and Honokaa, and along Mana Road upslope from Waimea,” Kodama said. “Fire department staff also reported vegetation near Keaumuku drying faster than last year. These observations are consistent with the satellite-based vegetation health data for those areas.”

Kodama said moderate drought conditions “retreated from the lower elevations of the South Hilo and Puna districts, but expanded into the mid-slope region of Mauna Loa.”

According to Kodama, a long-range outlook issued June 18 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center “shows probabilities favoring below-normal rainfall during the summer and early fall” this year, with trade wind patterns tending “to favor the windward slopes, with most leeward areas becoming drier.” He said an exception is in upslope Kona, “which is expected to have its summer wet season.”

Certainly the wet season has been evident in the Kona coffee belt, with Honaunau receiving 9.15 inches of rain in June and Kealakekua posting 7.09 inches, which, according to Kodama, represent “their highest June totals since 1997.” A third coffee-belt gauge, Waiaha, measured 10.28 inches, almost double its June average of 5.28 inches.

All three spots have been experiencing a wetter than average July, as well, with Honaunau reporting 5.47 inches for the month as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, Kealakekua receiving 4.64 inches and Waiaha measuring 3.71 inches.

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Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, a usually arid spot, reported just more than an inch of rain for the month, which is slightly above average for June.

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

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