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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, June 14, 2004

'Neutral' weather in forecast

By Carrie Ching
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i can expect a return to "neutral" weather conditions this summer, a relief from the heat and the drought conditions of a year ago, a top weather official said.

"We know we're going into a naturally drier season, but we expect near-normal conditions," said Jim Weyman, head of the Honolulu forecast office at the National Weather Service.

So far there are no signs of either El Nino or La Nina weather patterns, Weyman and other experts said.

El Nino conditions often mean a more active hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, with high surf and drought conditions during the winter. La Nina often results in cooler ocean temperatures and a quiet hurricane season. Weyman's forecast of four to five hurricanes in the central Pacific this season is average for the region.

One thing experts do know is that the heavy rain last winter doesn't mean Hawai'i residents can stop conserving water.

"Four months of rainfall doesn't make up for four to five years of dry seasons," said Chester Lao, a hydrologist-geologist at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. Lao explained that much of the water acquired during the short burst of rain last winter ran into the ocean instead of filtering down into aquifers.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said.

Climate experts are taking advantage of this calm period to hone their techniques for forecasting El Nino climate patterns and preparing Pacific business owners and the community for the effects of hurricanes and droughts.

Twelve years ago, a group of meteorologists, government planners and business owners from Hawai'i to Australia began collecting data and sharing research on El Nino weather patterns. The group, called the Pacific ENSO (El Nino-Southern Oscillation) Applications Center, recently held a three-day conference at the East-West Center in Manoa to discuss forecasting and disaster preparedness techniques and work on a plan for the future.

"Weather in the Pacific is pretty boring, but not if you're a utility manager," said Abe Malae of the American Samoa Power Authority.

Extreme weather conditions are especially challenging for officials in charge of water and power supplies because electric lines are often knocked down in hurricanes and reservoirs can dry up during droughts.

Malae said that during the 1997-98 drought — the worst in decades for American Samoa — the territory did not suffer any economic consequences because the forecasts provided by the Pacific ENSO Applications Center allowed officials to stockpile supplies.

Eileen Shea, climate specialist at the East-West Center, says she hopes to see a more regional approach to climate data collection within the government, instead of the current method of collecting data by the type of weather phenomenon.

"The Pacific is a great place to start because of the intimate connection between Pacific Island communities and the weather," she said.

The mild summer forecast and heavy rain last winter may mark a return to a cooler wave in a larger 20-year climate cycle, Shea said. But experts have only begun to track these larger cycles and don't yet have enough data to know for certain.

Reach Carrie Ching at cching@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.