Drought lingered on the Big Island through another dry winter and is returning this summer to more deeply ravaged, already water-stressed places. These next five months aren’t expected to bring any real reprieve, especially for leeward areas, said Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service.
Weather officials are predicting persistence and possible worsening of drought on the Big Island. Most of the island’s leeward sites had less than 50 percent of normal rainfall during the wet season, which typically runs October through April. Some areas that had slight improvement because of rain earlier this year are already intensifying again and not expecting to get better soon.
On the other hand, most of Big Island’s windward areas had 80 to 110 percent of the normal rainfall range during the wet season, which was ranked the 18th wettest season out of the last 30 years. In fact, the gauge at Hilo Airport received 79.65 inches.
The only exception to the latest prediction is the upland coffee belt, particularly in South Kona, which is unique in that more rainfall is typically observed in the summer than in winter, Kodama said. One theory for this is the onshore sea breeze is more persistent, ascending the mountain slopes, to interact with descending trade winds through the saddle, producing local showers usually in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, the rest of the Hawaiian Island chain generally experiences a dry season, running from now through September.
La Niña conditions, which typically last about nine to 12 months, were primarily to blame for the drier than normal wet season. La Niña is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns.
Right about now, tiny goldfields and purple mat should be erupting in carpets of color on the desert floor at Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks. The gentle hills of the Antelope Valley poppy reserve should be turning bright orange with thousands of California poppy blossoms.
But so far this spring, wildflowers in local deserts and mountains are in short supply. Even the rainstorm that swept through Southern California last weekend won’t be able to rescue what flower watchers say is turning out to be a disappointing year.
“I have a feeling that if anything does happen, it’s going to be a late season and a short one,” says Helen Tarbet, a field ranger who leads wildflower walks at Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Lucia District of Los Padres National Forest.
Indeed, it has been a very dry year in California. In the Southland, the drenching winter rains critical for wildflowers to start germinating never materialized. The mid-March storm brought less than an inch to 4 inches of rain to Southern California, Santa Barbara area and the vicinity, but rainfall totals are still below normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service.
Statewide, the snowpack measured continues to be well-below last year’s record-setter.
“The pretty abysmal snowpack levels we have this year are going to impact a lot of recreational experiences,” says Frank Gehrke, chief of snow surveys for the state’s Department of Water Resources. Late rains in the Sierra could help, but the roaring waterfalls at Yosemite and the white-water courses of the Kern River probably will be less robust than usual.
Desert wildflowers might be one of the earliest harbingers of the low-water year.
LINCANG, Yunnan – “I can’t expect any profit this year and I don’t know what to do next year,” said Li Xiuzhong, a 65-year-old sugarcane farmer in Lincang, Southwest China’s Yunnan province.
“We have 180 hectares of sugarcane last year and actually the beginning of the growing season was good due to sufficient rainfall,” he said. “But after June, things got worse so quickly and now there is no harvest in 30 hectares.”
His expectations have also dropped from five tons of crops for each hectare to three tons.
“These are already the best drought-resistant seeds and I have ploughed another 40 hectares for next year, hoping to earn more money,” he said. “But now, I have lost confidence in growing them under current weather conditions.”
He said he had grown sugarcane for more than 20 years and this year is the worst in terms of weather.
He is living on income from previous years.
Lincang used to be covered with thick forests and has rich water resources, but since the 2010 drought, its water conservation facilities have been under threat and agricultural production has been challenged.
Lincang’s sugar and tea industries are two pillars of its economy. Sixty percent of sugarcane crops were affected by the weather in 2010 and there was a conspicuous reduction of total production.
Ganhua Company is a major sugar factory in Yunxian county, and is experiencing a hard time with this year’s harvest.
According to Wei Xuehua, general director of the company, the scarcity of water has handed the company, as well as sugarcane farmers and delivery drivers, a total loss of 19 million yuan ($3 million) so far.
In addition, rats have also severely affected the production of sugarcane in the region as water can only be found in the plants.