Dry regions get drier with global warming, increasing fire risk − while wet areas get wetter
The islands of Hawaii are world renowned for their generally pleasant and tranquil weather. However, the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfire tragedy on Maui was a stark reminder that Hawaii also can experience drought and hot, dry, windy weather, providing the conditions for destructive fires.
Hawaii has seen a generally rising trend in the amount of land that burns each year as the local climate warms. Climate change was one of several contributors to Maui’s wildfire catastrophe, and rising temperatures and associated rainfall changes are expected to increase the islands’ fire risk. These changing weather patterns will also affect Hawaii’s ecosystems and freshwater resources.
The very steep mountains on each of the main Hawaiian islands block the prevailing northeast trade winds. This results in abundant rain on the slopes facing the windward direction and dry “rain shadows” in the leeward areas. Maui’s west coast tourist communities, including Lahaina, are in one of those rain shadows.
Hawaii is remarkable for its exceptionally strong gradations in the average rainfall rates over very short distances. The summit of Mt. Waialeale in central Kauai, known as one of the rainiest places on Earth, receives an average of about 450 inches of rain per year. The town of Kehaka, 15 miles to the…