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Think Death Valley Is Parched? This Year It's Twice as Wet As Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site


Things are normally on the dry side at Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Hawaii, but this year things are going to the extreme. NPS photo.

Mention "Death Valley" and often those words conjure images of hot, blistering sands and no water. Mention "Hawaii" and lush tropical forests and wave-washed shores come to mind.

That might be so, but so far this year Death Valley National Park has received twice as much rain as Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Hawaii, according to National Park Service officials.

Now, the part of Hawaii where Pu`ukohola Heiau is located is normally on the dry side, as park officials noted earlier this month:

Lush tropical rainforests, beautiful flowers and colorful birds -- that is the image many people have of the tropics. We usually equate high rainfall with tropical weather. But this is not always the case. Take for example the Kohala Coast of the Island of Hawai`i. Shielded by both Mauna Kea and the Kohala volcano, the area along this leeward facing coastline is one of the driest places in Hawai`i.

But things are going to extremes this year. So bad is the current Hawaiian drought that while Death Valley has received more than 3 inches of rain, Pu`ukohola Heiau has measured just 1.5 inches. Site officials say that while Hawaii overall is experiencing the worst drought conditions in the United States, in the Big Island districts of South Kohala (where Pu`ukohola Heiau is located) and Ka`u, drought conditions remain “Exceptional”…the highest severity level.

Somewhat ironic, in light of the Hawaiian drought, is that the wettest spot in the United States is Mt. Waialeale on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where more than 38 FEET of rain falls, on average, each year, according to the folks at Current Results.

On Maui, National Park Service officials at Haleakala National Park are warning park visitors of the risk of wildfires and are asking visitors to do their part in helping reduce the risk of fire. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the island of Hawaii, officials closed the Mauna Loa Road at Kipukapuaulu (Bird Park) to all visitors due to extreme fire danger. Also, `Ainahou Ranch is only open for administrative use.

Park visitors are being urged to use extreme caution and not park in tall grass (where a vehicle's hot catalytic converter or exhaust pipes might ignite the tinder-dry grass). The Hilina Pali Road also is closed beyond the Kulanaokuaiki Campground due to extremely dry conditions.


I am surprised to see this. Poor Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site! Death Valley had some flooding events early this year that felt minor compared to the "big flood" a few years past. All that rain added up!

I haven't been there (it was just off our planned drive from Hilo to Kona) but I do remember what the Kohala Coast was like. It was warm, dry, and parched. That was compared to the day we landed at Hilo Airport, where it was raining up a storm.

The entire western side of the Big Island is pretty dry. The Kailua-Kona Airport has an open air terminal where the gate waiting areas are covered. They so boardings and deplaning via passengers walking straight on the tarmac and up/down stairs from the tarmac to the plane door. I'm not sure what they would do if there's a passenger with a wheelchair though. I don't think they worry too much about rain, and if it does rain it's so warm that it's not uncomfortable.

Pu`ukohola Heiau NHS is located in 1 of 2 small regions on the Big Island that are the only places in the Nation under "Exceptional Drought" conditions. Mount Waialeale has received about 100 inches less this year than normal! (still well over 200 inches YTD). This past winter we were under El Nino conditions, which bring drought to the Islands and heavy rains to the West Coast. The driest year on record was 1953, where only .23 of an inch fell all year at Kawaihae (where the park is located.) Mahalo for the coverage!

Gosh, y_p_w, I hope you weren't too surprised to find it raining in Hilo. If you check NOAA climate records, you'll see that Hilo gets 180-200 inches of rainfall in a typical year and has more rainy days than just about any city-sized urban place in the entire United States. BTW, I've been to Hilo a number of times and have never been rained on there, whereas I got drenched during my one and only visit to Death Valley. This just goes to show you something or other.

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