A year ago at this time, nearly all areas of the Hawaiian Islands were affected by drought.
The exact opposite is true today. After enduring the state’s rainiest March since 2006, more than 92% of Hawaii has been lifted out of drought conditions. This includes all of the Big Island, according to the National Weather Service.
“The North Pacific pattern was very persistent in producing a split jet stream aloft,” said NOAA’s senior service hydrologist Kevin Kodama on what contributed most to such a wet month. “This helped send several low-pressure systems toward the Hawaiian Islands, thus producing the unsettled conditions.”
More than 80% of the Big Island reported above-average rain totals throughout March. The highest deviation from average was found in Waiaha, which saw a 431% increase with nearly 17 inches of rain.
Gauges throughout the Kona area saw an average increase of more than double their typical March rainfall. A wet growing season is good news for Hawaii’s agriculture; coffee farms, ranches and beekeepers are all likely to benefit from the extra hydration.
“The coffee trees are less stressed,” said president of the Kona Coffee Farmers Association Colehour Bondera. “During the dry season, they’re often overly stressed because there isn’t enough rain… The trees are completely happy to get as much moisture as they can get.”
Too much moisture, however, can cause problems, warns coffee farmer Suzanne Shriner. If the abundance of precipitation continues, the coffee yield could be affected.
“It causes some fungus to grow on the tree,” Shriner said. “The fungus is called anthracnose that causes the leaves to fall and the cherry to rot before it gets ripe.”
So much early precipitation bodes well for the Big Island’s chances to remain drought-free for much of the remainder of the year, though Kodama cautions there is still a chance for some areas to experience drought conditions as the dry season progresses.
“For the Kona slopes, I think the wet conditions early in 2020 mean the area will head into the summer wet season in good shape,” Kodama added. “The Kona slopes region is the only leeward area in the state that has a summer wet season… Unfortunately, this does not extend to other leeward areas on the Big Island, so leeward Kohala and the Ka‘u District will trend toward seasonal dryness. Since they’ve had a wet spring, significant drought development probably won’t occur until the mid-to-late-summer time frame.”