Pretty parched

LIHUE — Kauai’s rainy season this year was lacking in its signature element.

Winter usually means days of downpours on the Garden Isle. But October through April was abnormally dry. In fact, Kauai’s Westside and South Shore are currently experiencing a moderate drought.

“It looks like we’ve been in a moderate drought since the end of February,” said John Bravender, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Honolulu. “Going into the dry season this summer we would expect the drought areas to expand beyond the Leeward sections.”

The last time a moderate drought was recorded on the island was November 2013, Bravender said.

The culprit is El Nino, an irregularly occurring weather pattern that results in temperature and rainfall changes in the Pacific Ocean.

Droughts make for dangerous conditions for brush fires, Bravender said.

And a change in normally lush landscapes.

From his bird’s-eye view, Paul Matero, chief pilot at Safari Helicopters in Lihue, said the drop in rainfall this winter created noticeable changes in the land.

“Normally this time of year we would be on the Napali Coast and all the valleys are so saturated they look like they’re coated in green velvet,” the helicopter tour guide said. “But we’re not seeing that. It’s pretty much parch.”

Even Mt. Waialeale, widely considered one of the wettest spots on Earth, is experiencing the pinch. The mountain collected 38 percent less rainfall than normal this year through the end of April, according to data from the National Weather Service. In January, rainfall at the summit totaled little more than 4 inches.

Though Waialeale’s average annual rainfall total is 394 inches, recent years have been starkly different. In 2014 the USGS gauge on Waialeale recorded 267 inches of cumulative rainfall. While still the highest rainfall total in the state, that’s 32 percent less than the annual average. It’s also the lowest annual total at the site since 1993, when 244 inches fell.

“We have seen fewer number of days where we’re seeing waterfalls in the crater,” Matero said.

The dry winter comes on the heels of a wetter than usual summer. May through September was the wettest in 30 years, with above average rainfall statewide.

It would seem the weather gods are working to make up for it. Lihue Airport had 12 inches of rain from October to April, which is the driest wet season recorded there in the last 30 years, Bravender said.

But it makes for fine golfing.

In February, the skies over Princeville Makai Golf Course hardly dropped a spot of rain on the par 72 course — not until the last day of the month, according to First Assistant Golf Professional Tom Freestone.

It was a complete turn-around from February 2014, when Freestone said it rained so much that fewer golfers than normal played the course.

“We had basically a perfect February this time,” he said. “January and February is the busy season and we had very few days that it rained.”

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