The lion in winter: March roars into East Hawaii

  • Rainbows light up a stormy sky in Kona. (Travis Craig / Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • KEVIN KODAMA

There’s a weather proverb: “If March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb.”

Less than a week into the month, the metaphorical ferocious feline had already bared its teeth and claws in East Hawaii. In fact, the first four days of March produced more rainfall at Hilo International Airport, 13.57 inches, than the average rainfall for the entire month, 13.43 inches.

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“March is one of the wettest months of the year for East Big Island, so I don’t know if it’s going to let up in any significant way,” Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said Thursday. “And you’re already above average for the entire month.”

NWS released its monthly precipitation summary for February on Wednesday, and the rain gauges in Hilo and Puna measured below average rainfall for the month of February, but two-month rainfall totals remained above normal after a wet January.

Meanwhile, rainfall totals last month in North and South Kona, North and South Kohala, and Hamakua were mostly near to above average, leaving the majority of official Big Island rain gauges with higher year-to-date rainfall totals than usual.

Hilo International Airport received 5.62 inches of rain in February, 59% of its average of 9.56 inches. The airport had 21.51 inches at the end of February — still above average prior to the early March downpour.

Upslope, Waiakea Uka and Piihonua, both used to seeing February rainfall measured in double digits, received 9.23 and 8.42 inches respectively. Because of January, Waiakea Uka and Piihonua are at 44.06 and 39.04 inches for the year, respectively, well above average for both spots.

Pahoa’s February rainfall total of 6.51 inches was 64% of its 10.13 inches norm, but again, a wetter-than-normal January led to a 24.4 inches for the first two months of the year, a bit more than average.

Mountain View and Glenwood were rainier, at 9.1 inches and 9.68 inches, respectively, but those totals are still well below average. But record rainfall in January means Mountain View has received almost 43 inches for the year, while Glenwood, almost always a rainy spot, has received more than 52 inches.

In the Kona coffee belt, all four official gauges tallied above average totals. Waiaha led the way with 4.07 inches, while Honaunau, Kealakekua and Kainaliu checked in at 3.89, 3.47 and 3.32 inches, respectively, all above second-month norms. All but Kainaliu also have above average year-to-date rainfall totals and Kainaliu’s is just below the norm.

“We had a disruption of trades in the first half of the month, and when the trades came back, they were pretty cool and stable,” Kodama said. “So the east side didn’t get as much rain as they normally would, but the west side got rainfall, the leeward side. So it got some drought relief. It didn’t completely wipe out drought, but they got some needed rainfall, so that was good. There’s just some lingering drought in the Waimea and Mana areas, up in the pasture lands. But outside of there, it’s improved quite a bit in the past month.”

Kodama said reports from ranchers and satellite data indicated pasture improvements in cattle country, but described current conditions as “still poorer than average for this time of the year.”

“The recent cooler temperatures and strong winds in the Waimea area have hindered growth despite the uptick in rainfall,” Kodama wrote in his monthly drought report.

Waimea, Kahua Ranch and Kohala Ranch also had above-average rainfall for February, with respective totals of 8.89, 6.1 and 2.34 inches. All are also above their normal year-to-date totals at 14.22, 16.59 and 4.24 inches, respectively.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, known for its aridity, was true to form with 1.29 inches, a bit less than its usual 1.5 inches for February. That brings its 2020 total to 3.91 inches, less than half its average.

Most Ka‘u gauges were below their February norms. Kapapala Ranch was only slightly below normal, at 4.69 inches. Pahala received 2.04 inches, just 41% of its usual 4.93 inches for February, while South Point was parched at 0.31 inches, 12% of norm. All but South Point are still above their yearly averages, however, with Kapapala at 21.22 inches and Pahala at 15.31 inches.

South Point was blessed with a relatively wet January, and at 5.6 inches for the year, is at about 3/4 of its average.

“January was kind of like that in that there were several records for wettest January broken — and all of that happened in the first half of the month,” Kodama said. “This month is a little bit more extreme case.

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“It just took four days, and you’re already above average for March. Everything else is all surplus at this point.”

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

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