WONDERING IF YOU’LL GET CAUGHT OUT IN THE SNOW IN HAWAII?
Hawaii is one of the most iconic, tropical holiday spots and many people assume that the sun is always shining on the islands.
While they are certainly known for their warm, tropical climate, the Hawaiian islands experience season changes like the rest of the world. Though known for its beautiful, blue beaches and luscious rainforests, have you ever wondered if Hawaii actually experiences snow?
Snow can definitely mess with travel plans and no one wants to jet off expecting to get a sun tan and be greeted with snow!
This blog post will give you all the details that you need to know and answer that burning question: “Does it snow in Hawaii?”
I’ll explore the geography of Hawaii and its weather systems, and the islands’ climate and then reveal the answer to that all-important question.
The Geography of Hawaii
Before you dive into climate specifics on ANY region, it’s essential to take a look at its location in relation to the rest of the world and its position on the globe.
Hawaii is one of the 50 United States of America, and is an archipelago of eight main islands. From west to east, the main islands are Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii.
Hawaii is referred to as The Big Island a lot of the time in literature.
When talking about Hawaii’s climate, Hawaii is the island that most climatologists are concerned with.
Hawaii (The Big Island) and Maui have the greatest potential for snowfall out of all of the islands due to the presence of high mountain peaks.
Hawaii’s geographical location plays a crucial role in its climate. The state lies at approximately 19.8968° N latitude, placing it within the tropics. Therefore experiencing a tropical climate.
The temperatures on the island throughout the year are pretty consistent ranging from 24°C to 29°C. As Hawaii is made up of islands and therefore completely surrounded by ocean, the water acts as a temperature regulator, moderating the temperature highs and lows.
Trade Wind Influence
Being between the tropics means that Hawaii is under the influence of the trade winds. The northeast trade wind in particular is the dominating wind system on the islands.
As the trade winds encounter the huge mountains present on the islands, formed by volcanic activity, they are forced to rise, resulting in orographic lift. This will, in turn, cause the creation of clouds and therefore control the levels of precipitation on the islands.
This mechanism has created luscious rainforests on the west sides of the islands facing the direction that the winds come from.
The southwest side of the Big Island experiences drier, hotter conditions as it is not affected by the wind system.
Seasons on the Islands
During the summer months, the Hawaiian islands experience warm and tropical weather. Temperatures may reach up to 30°C with the average daytime temperature sitting at around 25.6°C.
Hawaii is therefore the perfect destination for holidaymakers seeking the sun at a beach. When the sun hits the crystal clear ocean close to the islands’ coastlines it makes for a beautiful picture.
Winter in Hawaii typically lasts between November and late March. But it’s not like the winter that we imagine. The islands just experience some milder temperatures and on the windward sides, there is a higher chance of rain.
The islands don’t typically experience any sort of weather anomalies. There have been a few instances of the weather systems being affected by hurricanes travelling south of the islands which bring more wet and windy conditions, but nothing typically devastating.
Other tropical systems that are created by the phenomenon of El Niño have brought some mild destruction to the island in the form of heavy rain and wind, but it quickly moved on and didn’t cause too much bother.
The last tropical storm to actually make landfall in Hawaii was Olivia which hit in 2018. Originating as Hurricane Olivia, upon reaching the islands, was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Storm Olivia caused up to $25 million of damage due to flooding that occurred on the island.
Like the rest of the world, there are increased fears of what role climate change might play in the future of the islands’ storms. They are likely going to become more intense as El Niño grows in strength and anomalies will become more present.
We can only hope that the devastation stays to a minimum and that the islands’ residents and travellers continue to stay safe and protected.
Does it Snow in Hawaii?
The answer that may surprise some people is: yes!
It does snow in Hawaii but only in very particular areas. Let’s take a look at them.
Big Island’s Mauna Kea
The tallest volcano in the state of Hawaii is the most significant location where snow is found. Standing at 4,207 m tall, the mountain was formed by volcanic activity over the last several thousand years. Its last known eruption is thought to have taken place in 2460 BCE give or take 100 years.
“Mauna Kea” is an abbreviation for Mauna a Wākea and means “white mountain,” a name which is perfectly fitting given that it experiences snow.
Due to its elevation, Mauna Kea experiences occasional snowfall during the harshest winter months, typically from late November to February.
Snow is also experienced on Haleakala, which is another prominent volcano located on the island of Maui. Haleakala stands at 3,055 m above sea level, making it the tallest peak on the island.
During the winter months, from December to February, the summit of Haleakala experiences snowfall. While not as common as on Mauna Kea, the sight of snow-capped landscapes against the volcanic terrain is a fascinating sight and a unique experience for visitors on the tropical island of Maui.
Visitors to Haleakala National Park during the winter season are the most likely to witness the rare event of snow in Hawaii. It is heavily advised to check the weather conditions before going through as safety is always a top priority.
Hikers wishing to reach the summit during the snowy season will need to wrap up warm and be prepared for the drastically low temperatures at such a high altitude, even if snow isn’t forecast.
Big Island’s Mauna Loa
Mauna Loa is another prominent volcano on the Big Island. It is not as renowned for receiving snow due to a lower elevation and higher temperatures, but it isn’t impossible.
At 4,169 m above sea level, Mauna Loa certainly has the height for receiving snow. It is similar to Mauna Kea in that the majority of its size is concealed below sea level. There is up to 5,000 m of mountain beneath the surface.
Mauna Loa is the largest volcano on Earth in terms of volume and area covered, but its summit is at a lower elevation compared to Mauna Kea. As a result, the temperatures at its peak remain above freezing throughout the year, making snowfall unlikely but not impossible.
Mauna Loa is still very volcanically active and has just recently erupted in November 2022.
Overall, Hawaii’s locations that have received snow in the past are ones of high elevation and low winter temperatures. Snow isn’t expected on the islands but isn’t uncommon during colder winters.
Conclusion: Does it Snow in Hawaii?
The answer to the question: “Does it snow in Hawaii?” is yes! But only in a very select number of locations which all happen to be volcanoes, due to their altitudes.
If you’re heading off on a winter break to the islands then I wouldn’t be concerned at all about snow unless you’re planning an excursion to hike up the mentioned volcanoes. Don’t be expecting snow if you do decide to tackle them though as it isn’t guaranteed.
You should still wrap up warm though if planning on climbing a volcano in Hawaii in the winter months, regardless of if it’s known to have snowfall as it will still be very cold.
Hawaii has very warm temperatures all year round, particularly at sea level and so is the perfect holiday destination!