Parts of Kona coffee belt received most rain since ’93

HILO — Although East Hawaii is known for its prodigious rainfall, 2019 will be remembered as a year in which rain reigned in West Hawaii, especially in the Kona coffee belt.

Two of the four official National Weather Service gauges in the West Hawaii coffee-growing region recorded their highest rainfall totals since 1993 — Kealakekua with 86.24 inches, exactly 30 inches more than it average yearly rainfall of 56.24 inches, and Honaunau with 77.09 inches, 137% of its yearly norm of 56.14 inches.

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The highest rainfall total among official gauges in the coffee belt, however, was at Waiaha, with 89.91 inches — almost twice its yearly average of 47.3 inches. And Kainaliu recorded 63.18 inches, 116% of its yearly average of 54.51 inches.

“Kona’s continued its trend for several years of pretty wet summers, and that’s been good,” said Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu. “In 2019, we had an El Nino, but it was kind of a strange El Nino because it was broken up by a wet February. It was a weak El Nino, and instead of being tremendously dry, we did get some rain, and that was a good thing.”

The coffee belt, unlike the windward side of the Big Island, experiences its wet season in the summer. All four of the previously mentioned communities, however, had higher-than-normal rainfall totals in December, with Honaunau leading the way with 5.4 inches for the month, almost twice its usual 2.8 inches for the final month of the year.

Bruce Corker of Rancho Aloha in Holualoa, who grows mangoes and avocados in addition to Kona coffee, said his farm’s rain gauge totaled 96.5 inches for the year.

“That’s a lot, and we were usually down in the high 30s, low 40s for most of the 10 years preceding, so it’s been wet,” Corker said Tuesday. “Our coffee harvest was up. It was not the best year, but it was up over the year before. Mangoes were down. Avocados were on the good side.

“On the whole, it seems to have been beneficial, but not for all crops.”

One relatively arid west side location, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, was even more so in 2019. The rainfall there was a paltry 8.93 inches for the year, just below half of its usual 18.39 inches.

In East Hawaii, official rain gauges in populated places all tallied below normal totals for 2019.

At Hilo International Airport, the 100.82 inches of rain for 2019, which is 2 1/2 times the rainfall Seattle receives in a year, is just 80% of its norm of 126.72 inches.

Upslope, Mountain View got 136.69 inches for the year, 79% of its usual 172.4 inches.

Laupahoehoe, which averages 156.12 inches of rain in a year, settled for 60% of that, a still robust 93.36 inches in 2019.

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“On the Kona side, we had a wet summer, but in some windward areas, like around the Hamakua Coast, South Point and up around the Upolu Point area, we got some intense but very localized drought,” Kodama said. We’ve been pulling out of that slowly and conditions have been improving.”

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

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