LIHUE — The rain gauge at the Lihue Airport was the lowest its been in 66 years last month.
The gauge recorded 1.17 inches of rain, two times lower than the monthly average, according to a hydrology report from the National Weather Service.
The last time it was that low was in 1950.
“The airport had a record dry December, which surprised me a bit because it’s not the normal weather pattern I’d expect for the winter months,” said Kevin Kodama, hydrologist for the National Weather Service on Honolulu.
On Kauai, October is the start of the wet season, and winter months are known for heavy rains.
For 2016, the Lihue Airport received 13.39 inches. The yearly average for the gauge is 37.05 inches.
The Garden Isle saw almost 1,600 inches of rain in 2016. That number comes from 26 gauges scattered throughout the island. Gauges can be found in Kokee, through Port Allen, Waialeale, Kapahai and as far north as Wainiha.
Mount Waialeale, known as one of the wettest spots on the Earth, received 368.64 inches of rain in 2016. The average rainfall there is 393.85 inches.
“The year started off pretty dry because of El Nino, but it eased off, and is getting better. The tradewinds came in strong, but they were rather dry,” Kodama said.
The island is in the grips of a small drought, Kodama said.
In March, NWS’s drought monitor for Hawaii moved from “moderate” to “severe” on Kauai’s south side. Not even considerable rain in March (182 inches) and December (192 inches) was enough to to help the island catch up from the scant rainfall it received early in the year.
“Kauai didn’t get as much rain as it usually does in the summer and the fall was dry,” he said. “The biggest surprise was how dry November was.”
In November, most of the gauges had below average monthly rainfall values. Several locations, like the Lihue Airport, Waimea and Moloaa, had monthly totals at less than 10 percent of average.
The Lihue Airport received .40 inches of rain. The November average is 4.46 inches. Waimea came in at .08 inches of rain, but the monthly average is 2.77 inches. The Moloaa gauge recorded .44 inches of rain and the average is 6.35 inches.
In November, the Garden Isle received about 120 inches of rain, making it one of the lowest months of the year for rainfall. Only January and September reported lower rainfall, coming in at about 37 and 113 inches each.
“December was a turn to a more seasonal pattern. The rains expected for this time of year helped with drought recovery,” Kodama said. “But we’re not fully out of the drought; grass is just starting to come up. Rainfall is still needed.”
Between Dec. 1 and Dec. 11, a wet weather pattern swept through Hawaii, resulting in heavy rainfall and flash flooding.
Kauai received the brunt of the impacts on Dec. 2 when flash flooding caused the Hanalei River to overflow. The Hanalei Bridge was closed on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 after 12 feet of water flooded the roadway.
Last year, Hawaii braced itself for several hurricanes that could have brought lots of rain. On Sept. 1, NWS issued a hurricane watch for the Big Island, Maui, Molokai and Lanai for Hurricane Lester as it passed through the state.
By the time Hurricane Madeline passed the Big Island on Aug. 30, it was downgraded to a tropical storm.
“There were pretty busy tropics in the fall, but Kauai escaped that,” Kodama said.
Looking ahead, Kodama said the Garden Isle isn’t out of the woods, in terms of a drought.
“It’s been dry and cool,” he said. “We’re forecasting Kauai to have normal or above average rainfall through April, but that could change.”