The winds also help bring the rains, and their decline means less water. It’s one reason officials are moving to restore the health of the mountainous forests that hold the state’s water supply and encourage water conservation. Scholars are studying ways for farmers to plant crops differently.
It’s not clear what’s behind the shift in the winds. “People always try to ask me: ‘Is this caused by global warming?’ But I have no idea,” said University of Hawaii at Manoa meteorologist Pao-shin Chu, who began to wonder a few years ago about the winds becoming less steady and more intermittent. Chu suggested a graduate student look into it. The resulting study, published last fall in the Journal of Geophysical Research, showed a decades-long decline, including a 28 per cent drop in northeast trade wind days at Honolulu’s airport since the early 1970s. The scientists used wind data from four airports and four ocean buoys as well as statistical data analysis for their study. Now, they are working to project future trade winds using the most recent data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body of the United Nations.
Luke Evslin is already noticing the dip. The 28-year-old has paddled outrigger canoes — boats long used around the Pacific for fishing, travel and racing — for most of his life. In Hawaii, this means he rides waves generated by trade winds. These days, though, there are fewer waves to surf because the winds are arriving less often. “You show up and the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. So instead of a 3-hour-45-minute race, it turns into a 5 1/2-hour race,” Evslin said. “So instead of testing your surfing ability, it’s testing your endurance. It’s a different type of paddling.” He’s thinking he’ll now have to start training for races in canals and rivers to better prepare for flat water conditions.
Sometimes the winds are too weak to blow away the volcanic smog, or vog, created by sulfur dioxide erupting from Kilauea volcano on the Big Island, leaving a white or brownish haze hanging over Honolulu. This aggravates asthma and other respiratory problems. For now, Chu said the most important consequence will be declining rainfall and a drop in the water supply, particularly as Hawaii’s population grows and uses more water. Trade winds deliver rain to Hawaii when clouds carried from the northeast hit mountainous islands built by millions of years of volcanic eruptions. These rains, together with rainfall from winter storms, are the state’s primary sources of water. On Oahu, the rain feeds ground aquifers that supply water to about 950,000 people in Honolulu and surrounding towns. Barry Usagawa, the water resources program administrator for Honolulu’s water utility, said residents are reporting streams near their homes are flowing lower than before. “What we don’t know is if this is truly a downward trend or just the lower leg of a long-term cycle. Is it going to go back up?” he said. The utility has contracted Chu to develop rainfall forecasts to plan for the decades ahead. –CTV News