Forecasters predict drought conditions this winter - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Forecasters predict drought conditions this winter

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Hawaii saw record rains and an active hurricane season this summer and fall.

Now that winter's here, get ready for the other extreme.

Forecasters say drier-than-normal conditions could spur a statewide drought.

"For the folks, such as the farmers, who count on that wet season rainfall to get things green again, it's a big deal for them because they don't get that rainfall," said National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Kodama.

The cause? El Niño, global weather phenomenon driven by warm surface water in the Eastern Pacific.

The abnormally high ocean surface temperatures produce conditions ripe for storms during the summer. In the winter, it’s just the opposite.

The ramifications for Hawaii are widespread.

Hardest hit could be Hawaii Island residents, many of whom are on water catchment systems and rely on the land for their livelihoods.

As of December 29, about 42 percent of the state was "abnormally dry," according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. That compares to about 32 percent at the same time in 2014.

The dry conditions have also put first responders on alert.

"The unfortunate part of having a wet dry season is now there's a high fuel load," Kodama said. "There's a lot of brush out there, there's a lot of things to burn as it dries out."

But drying out isn't all bad. 

On the Big Island, a dry winter could decrease mosquito populations. The islands is grappling with a dengue fever outbreak; the disease is spread by mosquitoes.

"Civil defense out there, they're counting on it," Kodama said. "They're hoping for it because it will help them with their battle.  If you can dry things out -- dry out the puddles, dry out the vegetation a bit so there's not as much water for mosquitoes to breed, that can only help.

Ocean surface temperatures are expected to return to their normal range by next summer.

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