Managing effects of drought in Hawai’i and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands

General Technical Report WO-98-5
By: , and 



How is drought expressed in Hawai‘i & USAPI? Drought is a significant climate feature in Hawai‘i and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI), at times causing severe impacts across multiple sectors. Below average precipitation anomalies are often accompanied by higher than average temperatures and reduced cloud cover. The resulting higher insolation and evapotranspiration can magnify the effects of rainfall deficits. These altered meteorological conditions lead to decreased soil moisture, which, depending on the persistence and severity of the conditions, can cause plant stress, affecting both agricultural and natural systems. The hydrological effects of drought include reductions in streamflow, groundwater recharge, and groundwater discharge to springs, streams, and the ocean. Drought also has socioeconomic impacts, where reduced water supply and other effects of drought have negative financial consequences. For these reasons, drought has been defined from at least five different perspectives: meteorological, ecological, agricultural, hydrological, and socioeconomic drought. In this chapter, we explore how these five faces of drought are expressed in Hawai‘i and the USAPI, and how managers operating within one or more these five perspectives address drought-related stressors to their systems. Not all droughts are the same, varying with respect to duration, frequency, extent, and severity. For example, the region receives severe episodic droughts during which an area will have little or no rainfall for months, even in areas that normally have no dry season. El Niño events fall into this category, and these moderate frequency events are typically responsible for shorter-lived but intense drought events that affect large areas. Drought can also be expressed as infrequent but long duration events of moderate severity, or long-term rainfall decline where the baseline condition appears to be changing when examined on longer time scales. From the perspective of the manager, understanding drought duration, frequency, extent, and severity is critical to understanding the duration, frequency, extent and severity of the response. For example, how an agency responds to El Niño events, with a focus on large-scale but short-lived emergency response campaigns, may differ from how an agency responds to baseline change or an increase in the frequency of extended dry periods, with a focus on longer-lived institutional, infrastructure, and personnel responses. The legislative and policy environment will also respond differently to different types of drought. Understanding and characterizing meteorological drought relies on a long-term network of climate stations. Rainfall has been extensively monitored in Hawai‘i since the early 1900s owing to the expansion of plantation agriculture (Giambelluca and others 1986), while rainfall monitoring for most of the USAPI began in earnest after World War II (Polhemus 2017). Due to prevailing winds, most of Hawai‘i’s land area is characterized by a wet season from November to April and a dry season from May to October. However, important dynamic features affect climate systems of the Pacific. For example, due to their tropical location, rainfall patterns in both Hawai‘i and the USAPI are strongly controlled by large-scale modes of climate variability, including the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). El Niño events are typically associated with drier than average winter wet seasons and wetter dry seasons, while La Niña events often result in a wetter than average wet season and a drier dry season. Many historical drought events have been attributed to El Niño events, which produce atmospheric conditions that are unfavorable for rainfall (Chu 1995). However, not all El Niño events result in drought, and effects differ depending on whether the El Niño is classified as Central Pacific (CP) or Eastern Pacific (EP) (Bai 2017; Polhemus 2017). 

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Title Managing effects of drought in Hawai’i and U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands
Series title General Technical Report
Series number WO-98
Chapter 5
DOI 10.2737/WO-GTR-98
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher USDA
Contributing office(s) National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, National Climate Adaptation Science Center
Description 27 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype Federal Government Series
Larger Work Title Effects of drought on forests and rangelands in the United States: Translating science into management responses
First page 95
Last page 121
Country United States
State Hawaii
Other Geospatial U.S. Pacific Islands
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
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