Addressing Drought in Hawaii and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands

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Drought maps for Hawai'iDrought is a prominent feature of the climate in Hawai‘i and the US-Affiliated Pacific Islands (USAPI) with impacts across multiple sectors. Over the past century, Hawai‘i has experienced downward trends in rainfall and stream baseflow and upward trends in the number of consecutive dry days and wildfire incidents. Future projections show that unusually severe dry seasons will become increasingly common on the leeward sides of all Hawaiian Islands.

Most severe drought events in the region are associated with El Niño years, when islands can be forced to make emergency declarations for drinking water and food shortages. Agricultural losses alone can cost millions of dollars to farmers and ranchers.

Severe droughts have shaped management plans and affected the management of water resources, wildfires, invasive species, and agriculture. As new ecosystems and climates emerge in Pacific Islands—particularly hotter and drier climates—it is critical that scientists produce locally relevant, timely, and actionable information and that managers are able to access the best-available science.

With funding from the Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center (PI-CASC), statewide information on drought in Hawai‘i across multiple sectors has been synthesized. In Hawai‘i and the USAPI, East-West Center researchers are also working with collaborators at the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa to pilot Drought Knowledge Exchange projects in which researchers collaborate with land managers to co-produce site-specific drought information. Improving our understanding of drought and having readily available and relevant drought-related information can increase the drought resilience and response of land managers, helping to reduce wildfire risk and protect threatened and endangered species.

Newsletters and factsheets

Drought stories from Hawai‘i: A workshop on drought recovery

On 23 July 2019, more than 30 participants from 18 different organizations gathered at the East-West Center for a Workshop on Drought Recovery in Hawai'i. The participants discussed recent droughts, identified information sources used and actions taken for drought recovery, and assessed what information was most helpful and what actions worked best. They identified several information sources and formats that would enhance drought recovery efforts in the islands, including:

  • Drought facts and figures written for a lay audience
  • A consolidated online portal/dashboard of all historical, new, and ongoing rain gauge, satellite, and radar rainfall data
  • Sector-specific impact-based thresholds/triggers linked to rainfall amounts
  • More real-time rainfall monitoring stations statewide
  • Outreach efforts on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and its associated impacts on drought and floods across Hawai‘i
  • More high resolution gridded drought products available for Hawai‘i (e.g., soil moisture, or the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, KBDI)

In connection with the Workshop, Abby Frazier, a Fellow in the East-West Center's Research Program, produced a timely Fact Sheet on the Economic Costs of Drought in Hawai'i.

The Workshop was sponsored by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency's (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). More information is available on the NIDIS Hawaii page, the State of Hawaii Drought Page, and the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Earlier workshops

  • April 15-18, 2019: Pacific Islands forestry professionals workshop, East-West Center, Honolulu. Session Title: “Drought and fire: Learning from Pacific fire exchange”. Co-Sponsors: USDA Forest Service, Council of Western State Foresters. Conveners: C. Trauernicht, A.G. Frazier, S. Cordell, M. Kunz, and C.P. Giardina.
  • August 14-15, 2018: Drought in the USAPI—impacts, resilience, and management, East-West Center, Honolulu. Co-Sponsors: U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Adaptation Science Center, the Department of the Interior Pacific Islands Climate Adaptation Science Center, and the USDA Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry. Conveners: A.G. Frazier, S. Constanzo, B. Walsh, and B. Meyers.

News coverage

See all current East-West Center Research Projects.