Hawaii Starts Feeling a Little Bit Less Like Paradise, More Like Atlanta


As anyone who has ever set foot on Hawaii knows, one of the first things you notice is the gentle but constant breeze that wafts over the islands and acts as Mother Nature's air conditioner. 

Those light breezes from the northeast—called the trade winds—help make life in the tropics bearable for Hawaiians. Or, at least they used to. 

These days, the trade winds are mysteriously dying down, and Hawaiians are having to cope with something normally associated with Midwestern summers and the Deep South: humidity.

According to the AP, a general increase in mugginess could be the least of Hawaii's worries. 

The trade winds also bring rains to the islands, and these days Hawaii is seeing a decline in water levels. Officials are working to fast track mountain conservation programs to shore up existing water supplies, and are studying new methods for farmers to use when planting crops.

And then there's the volcano problem: The trade winds normally blow away smog generated by Hawaii's famous volcanoes. A drop in the trade winds means the smog lingers.

All of which is threatening to make Hawaii feel less like paradise than Atlanta in the middle of a summer drought.

So what's causing the drop in the trade winds? Well...no one is quite sure:

"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 percent drop in northeast trade wind days at Honolulu's airport since the early 1970s.

So while the jury is still out on what's causing the dip in the trade winds, the AP singled out another area of Hawaiian life that's feeling the impact: water sports, specifically outrigger canoe paddling, a traditional Hawaiian pasttime that involves riding waves generated by trade winds. But what once took three hours and 45 minutes now can take more than five hours.