updated 10/26/2006 9:04:47 AM ET 2006-10-26T13:04:47

Farmers across the islands have taken a big hit this year because of Mother Nature. They now face an unusually dry winter.

"El Nino years in the winter are good tourist weather but bad weather for the permanent residents," said Jim Weyman, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's forecast office in Honolulu. "It impacts water supplies, ranching and farming, and catchment systems on the Big Island."

Those conditions include cooler nights because of less cloud cover, dry conditions, more north shore surf and a slight chance of late season hurricanes.

The state has already approved 45 farm loans totaling nearly $2 million for this year's floods. And more loans are pending.

The state Board of Agriculture on Monday also provided similar loans for farmers who have or will suffer losses from this month's Big Island earthquakes, which damaged reservoirs.

And drought conditions have developed on upcountry Maui, Molokai, and Waimanalo, the weather service said.

Recent rains on Maui, which has been dry since the heavy rains in March, have provided some relief but not enough.

Farmers hope for aid
Maui County Farm Bureau president Warren Watanabe says farmers there are planning to ask for a drought declaration for the county in order to qualify for emergency funding.

Al Santoro, owner of Poamoho Organic Produce on Oahu, said he expects to pay for irrigation during the dry summer months, but not in the wintertime.

"We depend on the winter rain to replace our irrigation," he said.

If there is no rain, Santoro must turn on his irrigation pumps, "the cost increases as we use it."

El Nino conditions begin with warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Into the fall months the weather pattern increases the chances of tropical depressions, storms and hurricanes. As winter begins, the El Nino brings with it dry, cloudless days.

El Nino conditions could also mean light southerly winds and uncomfortable mugginess, meteorologist Nezette Rydell said.

Stronger Nino predicted
The weather service predicts a weak to moderate El Nino from mid-December through March.

However, based on cooling in the Indian Ocean, researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa foresee a stronger El Nino.

Shang-Ping Xie, a professor of meteorology at the International Pacific Research Center, said conditions this year are looking suspiciously like those in 1997.

"These conditions in the Indian Ocean only happen every 10 years on average. Last time, in 1997, it produced the biggest El Nino on record," he said.

On the possible plus side of the El Nino conditions this winter — for surfers at least — could be more big waves.

The 1997-98 El Nino ushered in the legendary Big Wednesday on Jan. 28, 1998, when Ken Bradshaw surfed the biggest wave ever ridden on Oahu's North Shore — estimated by onlookers to be at least 45 feet high with an 80-foot face.

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