Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hawaii’s changing weather and the Pacific Oscillation

The ocean temperature is warming in the central Pacific Ocean and as a result the weather in Hawaii is changing.  

Climatologists have tied droughts and storms in Africa, the Americas, and Australia to changes in ocean surface temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean. The weather cycle is called “La Niña” when the surface water is warmer and “El Niño” when the water is colder. These alternating weather patterns are known as the Pacific Oscillation and though they take months or even years to develop, NOAA is always trying to predict when the changes will happen to prepare people for droughts and floods.

Living in Hawaii, these cycles are not as abstract to us as they used to be on the mainland.  When we jump into the ocean here, we can give a global weather report by the water surface temperatures we experience (we also have a thermometer watch to make it less subjective).

The La Niña cool water weather pattern which has affected Hawaii’s weather since about March 2010 is transitioning to a warm water El Niño.  El Niño weather brings more rain, storms and bigger waves for surfing in Hawaii.  We can already feel the effects of the increased cloudiness, humidity and dark clouds arriving from the warming surface waters.  Combined with heavy volcanic emissions from the volcano, the Kona coast has become hazier with fewer sunny days.

The slow warming of the Pacific Ocean, associated with an El Niño, has already deluged Oahu and Kauai with water from huge rain storms this past winter; Oahu was pummeled with water spouts, thunderstorms with hail, and a tornado. The El Niño may mean the arrival of more cyclones this summer during the most active months of the Central Pacific Hurricane season from July to October. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Our week in Waikiki

We just returned home to Hawaii Island after a week in Waikiki. We were very surprised at how much Waikiki has changed since our last visit.  Two years ago,  the sidewalks of Waikiki were empty during the day and filled with aggressive beggars and street “performers” during the night. Cranes filled the skyline, construction workers flooded the Starbucks, and construction zones re-routed pedestrians and cars.  The state was in a panic over the lack of  tourism revenue, visitors from Asia were waning, airlines were cutting flights, and hotels were offering very low rates to attract visitors.

What a difference two years can make.   Waikiki reminded us more of central Tokyo than Hawaii. The sidewalks, restaurants, and stores were filled with tourists morning through night. Brightly lit signs and flashing lights adorned the streets and heavily air conditioned store interiors were advertising high fashion European clothing and products.   Ala Moana Mall was absolutely packed with shoppers, the merchandise has been up scaled (if that is possible), and the prices in stores like Macy’s have sky rocketed.

Many of the store fronts advertised jobs and most of the businesses could have used more workers.  Our favorite breakfast place, the Wailana Coffee House, had every table full on Saturday morning in their huge restaurant, even though an IHop was right next door.

We had to push through crowds in the Waikiki hotel lobbies, hotel bars were overflowing, and lounge chairs around hotel pools that were empty two years ago, were filled with vacationers.  The Japanese are back in force, perhaps to escape the heat of Tokyo during a hot summer of power shortages in Japan.  We watched large groups of Chinese visitors being toured through high end stores to spend their excess US dollars.  May is off-season in Hawaii, but you would not have known it in Waikiki last week.

The massive construction projects are over and it makes walking on the sidewalks in Waikiki much more fun. The cranes and construction have been replaced with lines of gleaming buildings, shiny new sidewalks, endless storefronts, and exotic restaurants  from the Hilton to the Hyatt.   There were a few people in bathing suits carrying surf boards  near the beach, but they were sparse compared to tourists decked out in upscale clothes popping in and out of air conditioned stores along the main drag.  We walked along the beach front from the Hilton to the ponds at Kuhio beach and sadly even more of the sand in front of the hotels is missing. The efforts to replenish the sand this year has not kept up with the erosion.

The military presence in Waikiki is very prominent compared to years before. The Hale Koa Military hotel next to the Hilton cut down the huge bushes that used to block their view from the people on the strand.  Military men and women are conspicuously present on the edges of Waikiki. They are with their families or in groups in and out of uniform walking to the many bars and entertainment spots in the area. 

Coming from the Big Island, the differences felt overwhelming.  The noise, traffic, lights, and frantic pace in Waikiki are a huge contrast from the quiet, empty island we live on. The crowds of visitors in Waikiki makes it even more obvious how few tourists we have on the Big Island where the stores and restaurants are sparsely filled during this off-season.  Though the crush of visitors in Waikiki has to be helping the state’s tax income, it sure would be nice to get some of the windfall, jobs, and income on our island.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Celebration of Ka’u Specialty Coffee

The Ka’u District on Hawaii Island is expanding coffee production on the southern slopes of Mauna Loa Volcano. Though Ka'u coffee is less well known internationally than Kona coffee, gourmet coffee beans grown in Ka’u are winning international coffee competitions.

Coffee was initially planted in Ka’u in 1843, but the land was overtaken by sugar plantations. After the demise of the region's sugar industry in 1996, farmers have been transforming the cane fields into acres of coffee plants.  Ka’u coffee started gaining attention in 2007 when Will & Grace Rising Sun coffee and Aroma Farms were ranked in the top ten coffees in the world by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).  This year, three coffees from Ka’u were judged in the SCAA top ten, including  Rising Sun, Rusty's Hawaiian, and Ali'i Hawaiian Hula Hands Coffee. These Ka’u coffees, which competed with 250 other coffees from 26 countries, were the only winners from the US. 

We were introduced to Ka’u coffee in 2004 when we stopped at the farmer’s market in Na’alehu in the Ace Hardware parking lot across from the Punalu’u Bake shop. We were taken by Rusty Obra's enthusiasm for growing coffee so we bought some of his Rusty's Hawaiian to try.  We liked it so much that we started ordering it online when we returned to California.  After moving to Hilo in 2007, we were sorry to hear that Rusty had passed away, but we were glad the great tasting coffee was still available thanks to his wife Lorie.

This weekend, the 4th Annual Ka’u Coffee Festival is taking place in Pahala, a town located between Volcanoes National Park and the Punalu’u black sand beach. On Saturday, May 12, the events include a music festival (Ho’olaule’a) , cupping demonstrations, coffee farm tours, and the Ka’u Coffee Experience which offers the opportunity to sample a variety of Ka’u coffees.   On Sunday, May 13 the festival sponsors the Ka’u Coffee College which features instruction and advice to those interested in producing their own coffee.

To find out more about Ka’u Coffee and the upcoming annual Ka’u Coffee Festival, check out their website.