SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

It's A Wet World, After All!
By Dave Kiffer


November 12, 2007
Monday AM

POPIU BEACH, Kauai, Hawaii - Okay, this may not look much like work, but I'm on the clock here on this sandy beach in paradise, let me tell you!

jpg Dave Kiffer

You may remember that I am what used to be called a "rainmaker." I always bring my Ketchikan bio-clime with me at all times (see "A Drip of The Old Block" SITNEWS, July 9, 2007) and frankly my work in Ketchikan was going very well (see "2007 Fifth Wettest October on Record, SITNEWS, Nov. 8, 2007).

So is was obviously time for a vacat. Uh, time to spread my horizons elsewhere, to find some other precipitation poor place and break another drought with a short term relocation.

Fortunately, I discovered that things were not going so well in this American tropical paradise. They were having a bit of a drought and some of the bougainvillea was getting a bit barren. On top of that, the good burghers of Kauai had decided to empty some old, poorly maintained reservoirs after one collapsed last year, so the situation was even direr than a normal dry patch.

To make things more interesting - and to show that was truly all work and no play - Kauai has a bit of a reputation as being one of the wettest places on earth. Even more than Ketchikan (see "And the Drip Goes On," SITNEWS, July 20, 2006).

Now seriously, would anyone from Ketchikan go on a VACATION to one of the few places in the world that gets more rain each year than Ketchikan??? This was rainmaker work, pure and simple. I rest my case.

Anyway, the problem with the rain on Kauai is that some 450 inches falls each year on the big volcano in the middle, Mt. Waialeale. At least I told there was a big mountain the middle of Kauai called Mt. Waialeale. I never actually saw it. It is always covered by clouds. Go figure.

According to the rain gauge on Mt. Waialeale (which is actually Hawaiian for "It's too dang wet here, let's head for the coast!") it rains something like 335 days a year on the mountain. No one knows for sure. No actually lives on Mt. Waialeale to find out.

Only in Ketchikan do people actually live in a really, really, really rainy place just to make sure it rains. That's why we are Alaskans. We demand first hand knowledge of foul weather.

The problem apparently is that while Mt. Waialeale gets all the rainfall (and the notoriety) not that much else falls on the rest of the island.

Yes, it is somewhat of a tropical rainforest (It IS called "The Garden Isle" not "The Island of Xeriscapes"), but compared to Mt. Waialeale the more populated areas of Kauai (Waimea - 24 inches, Popiu -35 inches, Princeville - 44 inches, Lihue - 49 inches) are about as dry as Death Valley.

In 2006 it was pretty wet on the island ( leading to reservoir collapses and flash flooding) but this year some parts of the island are at 10 percent of their traditional rainfall. That's a crisis and it calls for a "rainmaker."

So that's why the Hawaii Department of Rainfall and Incidental Precipitation (DRIP) contacted me and suggested I bring my family to Kauai for a little R and R (Rain and Relaxation). How could I refuse?

Naturally, my mission was on the hush-hush and DRIP told me that if I was captured it would avow all knowledge of me and my mission. The message also self destructed in a soggy ball of paper mush in 10 seconds. That's just the way things are in the top secret world of "rainmaking."

You're probably wondering just what "rainmaking" entails in this sort of situation. I can't go into details (trade secrets and all that ) but I can discuss the broad outlines of the process.

It varies with each location.

On Kauai, all I am at liberty to report is that drinking Mai Tais and eating copious amounts of "shave ice" was necessary. There was also a modified form of human "sacrifice" that involved laying in the hot sun and burning off a couple of layers of epidermis. There was also much ceremonial immersion in the surf. But if I told you any more, I'd have to kill you.

At this point, about all I am authorized to say is that the process worked.

When I arrived on Kauai, they were getting some halting sprinkling, but not enough sustained precipitation to make a difference. After two days of imbibing Mai Tais and Shave Ice, I had created several significant - but short term - downpours. One actually resulted in more than three-quarters of an inch of rain in 15 minutes.

But I knew I had to work harder. It would take much more imbibing and more prolonged ceremonial immersions.

Finally, after much, much hard work on my part, a significant low pressure system rolled in from the south. It started raining very heavily around 10 p.m. one night and continued to rain heavily until 6 a.m. the next morning (I can't even begin to tell you how difficult it is to plan rainfall so that it doesn't disrupt beach going!).

At peak drippage, more than two inches were falling per hour. The total amount was nearly seven inches in the eight hour deluge. It looked like one of the tropical monsoons I used to see in the movies. Very impressive. Some of my best work to date.

I can't guarantee that the drought is entirely over, but the seven inches Kauai received that night was greater than all the rest of the rain it has received in the previous six months.

My work was done.

Just a short postscript that falls under the it's a small world category (see "It's A Small World, SITNEWS, Sept. 5, 2006).

Kauai is small island, about the half the size of Revilla with about 70,000 people strung out in little towns like pearls on a necklace of roads along the beaches on the edge of the island. It probably takes about three hours to circumnavigate as much of the island as you can (there's about 15 miles of coastline that is too steep for roads - like the area between Juneau and Skagway).

So it's a small place, but has a fair amount of people, and a lot of small towns to choose from. So what are the odds of seeing someone else from Ketchikan on Kauai? Apparently better than you think.

We were having breakfast at a small restaurant one morning near our beach and Charlotte thought she heard someone say "hey, Ketchikan" as we walked out. But she decided she was probably hearing things.

But then about eight hours later, in an entirely different town on the island, we ran into Vern and Mimi Starks in a store. Dr. Starks was the vet in Ketchikan for a zillion years and is also well known around the state as the head veterinarian for the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest. The Starks have been living near Port Townsend in recent years but have had a timeshare on Kauai - where they spend several months each year - for many years.

It turned out that they had seen us earlier that day in the restaurant and then we had run into them a second time eight hours later and many miles away. Go figure.

They send their good wishes back to all the local folks and note that they still consider themselves Alaskans.

They don't miss the rain, but then they do spend a third of the year on one of "wettest" islands in the world. Even if it does need the help of a "rainmaker" once in a while.

It's a small world - and a wet one - after all.


Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2007

Publish A Letter
        Read Letters/Opinions

Write the Editor

Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska