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The Good, the Bad, the Dusty

July 9, 2009
Debra Lordan · Editor/General Manager

If it’s not bad enough we are in a fiscal drought and a job drought, Maui County has recently declared another kind of drought. Declaring a drought watch, the county Department of Water Supply once again asks Upcountry residents and businesses to voluntarily reduce water consumption by 5 percent. The water department could issue a drought warning if the situation worsens, leading to a mandatory water consumption cut of 10 percent.

Yes, again, or rather, still. The Central Maui water system, which includes South Maui, has been in drought conditions since August 2007, when residents were asked to reduce water consumption by 10 percent.

The main reason for our ongoing drought has to do with our climate-dictating children, El Niño and La Niña, who affect the climate of the entire planet. El Niño is a climatic warming phenomenon that occurs every three to five years or so. El Niño (“Christ Child” in Spanish) events first become evident during Christmas season in the surface oceans of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. La Niña is essentially the opposite of El Niño.

El Niño years typically result in fewer hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean—a good thing for the Mainland. But in Hawai‘i, droughts usually occur during El Niño events—the 10 driest years in the state’s weather records were all associated with El Niño. A bad thing for us.

Climate scientists have pretty much assured us of the arrival of a 2009-10 El Niño. But, El Niño is a little bit like recession. Climate analysts tell us that we have to be in it before we can accurately say we have one. We might call these observations rather than predictions then, no?

And just when we were beginning to detect a discernable pattern of behavior in our recalcitrant children, cousin El Nino Modoki (Japanese meaning “similar, but different”), enters the ‘ohana. This new event forms in the Central Pacific rather than the Eastern Pacific. Warming in the Central Pacific is associated with a higher storm frequency along the Gulf Coast—a bad thing for the Mainland.

El Niño may be changing to El Niño Modoki due to a natural oscillation, or it could be the response to an increasingly warming atmosphere. Our trade winds show indications of weakening, which may lead to the warming occurring further west. La Niña, the cooling of the surface waters in the Eastern and Central Pacific, seems to be changing her structure as well.

What the actual affects this new anomaly will have on our weather outlook remains a mystery, apparently, until we are experiencing them. But the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed us last month that conditions are favorable for a switch to El Niño conditions sometime between June and August—which is now. The NOAA forecast for the coming months calls for drought persistence or development for most parts of the Hawaiian Islands.

General suggestions, observations, predictions: Continue conservation measures to mitigate the effects of our ongoing droughts. Bad news is, they all may worsen.



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