Thursday, January 19, 2017

Wai'ale`ale still wettest spot on Earth? If you count ALL the rainfall, yes.

NOAA image of the weather station at Wai`ale`ale. 

Everybody is claiming to be wetter than Wai`ale`ale—the longtime champion as Wettest Spot on Earth.

There are wetter places in India, in New Zealand, in Cameroon, they say. 

Let me stand and defend Wai`ale`ale.

I’ve been there. It’s wet. So wet that trees can’t grow. The sedges there push themselves up from the surface in clumps, to keep from drowning. 

Much of the time, being there is like sitting in a constant cold shower.

It is a gorgeous, unworldly landscape. It sits at the edge of plunging green cliffs. When you peer between the clouds, you can see the ocean nearly a mile below.

To suggest that some dank jungle is wetter than this sacred place, well, that’s just sacrilege.

We on Kaua`i always knew Wai`ale`ale deserved the crown, but then a bunch of decades ago, folks in India began claiming the title for Cherrapunji. And others suggested that Mount Kukui on Maui might actually be wetter.  

I’ve just come across an article  that dumps Wai`ale`ale into 8th place and Kukui to 9th. It moves Big Bog on Maui up to 7th. Here’s MSN’s version of that. 

The place listed on these sites as wettest is Mawsynram, Meghalaya State, India, with a pretty amazing total of just short of 40 feet—467 inches. It’s a short distance from Cherrapunji, which also in Meghalaya State.

I will concede that Wai`ale`ale may not be the wettest every year. I will even concede that with climate change, it may be less wet than it was. Less wet. You can’t really say drier when you’re talking rainfall in dozens of feet.

But turning away from Wai`ale`ale as long-term champion? Let’s just take a breath.

Back in the 20s, the Kaua`i spot measured nearly 57 feet of rain. That’s 683 inches. But it's averages we're talking about here.

The problem with documenting Wai`ale`ale is that it’s so wet that the measurements don’t represent all the actual rainfall. 

For years, the massive copper drum that held rainfall at Wai`ale`ale was checked by teams that rode mules part of the way, and then hiked the rest. Sometimes they huddled in a cave to get out of the incessant rain. Often they couldn’t get to the summit for weeks or months. (Last time I saw that copper drum, it was stored at Kaua`i Museum.)

Often, by the time they got there, the drum had long since overflowed. They could only measure what was in the drum. There was no way to guess what had flowed over.

Plus, the middle of a wet Hawaiian winter is a tough time to get to the site. You couldn't show up like clockwork on December 31 to measure the rainfall and dump the water for the new year. Thus, not only are annual figures are often underestimates, but it's estimated which of the rainfall fell in October to December, and which in January to March.

The result is that until the advent of electronic devices that measured rain without storing water, many of the Wai`ale`ale annual rainfall counts have a long history, but almost all are necessarily less than the amount that actually fell. Maybe inches less, maybe feet less.

Even conceding all that lost water, the Wai`ale`ale numbers are high. Winters Takamura, of the Weather Service, reported in 1935 “The annual average from 12 years of record in the interval between 1911 and 1933 is 456 inches.” 

He listed Cherrapunji at 458. And now folks are giving Mawsynram 467.

But these places are very different. Mawsynram is a town. One can assume that every millimeter of rainfall is measured and none is allowed to spill over the rain gauge rim. Also, the rainfall record at Mawsynram is just a few years long. Indian media agree that the Mawsynram data is all quite recent, although Cherrapunji’s numbers go way back to the 1800s.

Guiness World Records has bought the hype, and lists Mawsynram first and Cherrapunji second.  

But the title stays with Wai`ale`ale  if you count only a few lost inches of rainfall, water that overflowed the green-stained copper drum and ran down its sides into the sedges of the Eastern Alaka`i.

Long term? No question. Wai`ale`ale has the pedigree. And if the data were perfect, there's a strong argument that it would drench the competition.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

No comments: