Drought puts Big Isle and Maui on federal disaster list


POSTED: Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hawaii and Maui counties have been designated primary natural disaster areas because of losses caused by drought this year, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced.

“;President Obama and I understand these conditions caused severe damage to these areas and serious harm to farms in Hawaii, and we want to help,”; said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “;This action will provide help to hundreds of farmers who suffered significant production losses to warm season grasses.”;

Some parts of Hawaii had a lot of rain the past month, but it fell mainly in places that do not have serious drought conditions, says Kevin Kodama, senior service hydrologist at the Honolulu Forecast Office.





        Hawaii County

        » Extreme drought: South Kohala

        » Severe drought: Kau, North and South Kona

        » Moderate drought: Lower Kona slopes (Honaunau to Kalaoa)

Maui County
        » Severe drought: Central and West Maui, West Molokai
        » Moderate drought: East Molokai, Lanai


Source: National Weather Service




Portions of the Big Island did not receive much rain, and they are still hurting from drought, said the National Weather Service meteorologist.

Hawaii's wet season is from October through April, but Kodama and Jim Weyman, meteorologist-in-charge of the Honolulu Forecast Office, said in October it would be drier-than-normal from mid-December through April because of El Nino conditions.

An El Nino is a weather phenomenon in the equatorial Pacific with unusually warm sea surface temperatures that affect climate worldwide.

The Big Island's South Kohala district had the sixth consecutive month of extreme drought in November, Kodama said. Some improvement occurred with rain in the early part of the month—from extreme drought to severe drought, he said.

Then it got windy, and farm agents said the winds “;dried things out quick,”; Kodama said.

That window of opportunity to pull out of the drought is closing, he said.

Climate models have been pretty consistent in predicting drier-than-nomal conditions through the spring, Kodama said.

“;It's ironic in a sense,”; he said, referring to heavy rain in many parts of the state last month and a significant storm with flooding on Kauai. Rainfall amounts ranged from 3.93 inches at Hanapepe to 29.78 inches at Wailua, 37.66 inches at Kapahi and 37.53 inches at the Hanalei River.

But Big Island and Maui areas that needed rain did not get it, Kodama said. On the Big Island, Kahuku Ranch in the Kau District had only 1.17 inches of rain; Honaunau, 1.03 inches; and Kealakekua, 0.76 inches, while Mountain View had 23.41 inches and Waiakea, 27.93 inches.

Qualified farm operators in these areas are eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency. Farmers have eight months to apply for loans to help cover some of their losses, officials said. When considering applications, FSA will consider the extent of losses, security available and repayment ability, they said.

Interested farmers can contact their local USDA Service Centers for further information. Additional information is online at disaster.fsa.usda.gov.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.