UPDATE: Leeward Fire Hazard Warning Follows Dry October
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by Dave Smith
The National Weather Service today (Wednesday) issued a “fire weather watch” because of heightened fire hazard conditions on the leeward side of all Hawaiian Islands.
Low humidity and the possibility of strong winds beginning Thursday afternoon prompted the watch, the weather service said. The conditions are expected to continue into Friday.
The watch comes after last month’s record-setting dry weather across the state contributed to what is shaping up to be an arid year on the Big Island.
Relatively speaking, of course.
Last month, Pahoa received only 2.60 inches of rainfall, smashing the previous record for the driest October, 4.35 inches, set in 1992.
According to data from the National Weather Service, a new record was also set in Laupahoehoe, where 0.88 of an inch fell last month, exactly an inch less than the previous record set in 2008.
The two were among 19 records set statewide for the driest October on record, hydrologist Kevin Kodama said in a report issued earlier this month.
Those locations included Mt. Waialeale on Kauai, the wettest place in Hawaii with more than 393 inches annually, making it also one of the wettest spots in the world. The rainfall there last month was 5.14 inches, nearly 1½ inches less than the previous driest October.
Mt. Waialeale typically sees more than 33 inches of rain during that month.
With 2.91 inches in October, Hilo’s airport also flirted with a record. That’s 0.51 inches more than the driest October on record there which occurred, well, exactly 51 years ago.
It’s also only 30% of normal rainfall for the month. That was typical for most of the stations on the normally wet windward side of the island where most gauges recorded a third or less of average rainfall. Pahoa was the driest at 22% of normal for the month of October.
The weather service said the dry weather was caused by a shift in the tracks of storms in the North Pacific. That resulted in cold fronts stalling northwest of the Hawaiian Islands, which pushed stabilizing high-pressure ridges closer to the state.
And Hawaii is not alone. The weather service said nearly 60% of the contiguous US is undergoing moderate to exceptional drought.
As of the end of October, rainfall in 2012 was lagging well behind normal levels across the Big Island.
Areas of the island considered under extreme drought — the second worst category — include most of South Kohala, the north-facing slopes of Hualalai and the lower elevations of southwest Ka`u.
Those areas are seeing significant impacts from the drought to ranchers, growers of ornamental plants and fruit and bee-keepers, the weather service said.
Only two remote areas, Ahumoa above Saddle Road and Kawainui Stream in North Kohala, were above or close to average rainfall levels for the year.
Hilo, the rainiest city in the nation with an annual average of more than 126 inches, had about 73 inches through October, 74% of normal for that period.
Most other locations around the Big Island were running at 75% or less of normal. Rainfall at Waikoloa and the Kona International Airport at Keahole was at a quarter of normal levels.