Snow in Hawaii – Geography Realm

neub9
By neub9
3 Min Read

The Hawaiian Islands are synonymous with tropical weather and warm temperatures year-round. Situated about 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland in the Pacific Ocean, the state enjoys pleasant weather the majority of the time.

Despite these mild temperatures, Hawaii receives snow each year at higher elevations, typically at peaks over 13,000 feet.

Snowfall Patterns in Hawaii

Snowfall in Hawaii is often linked to specific weather patterns. During the winter season, cold fronts from the north bring lower temperatures to the islands. In combination with moist air and precipitation from the Pacific Ocean, snow or ice can form on the mountain summits.

This snowfall is generally light and accumulates in patches or dustings across the peaks.

Impact of the Kona Low

Image: Landsat 8, NASA

A significant snow producer in Hawaii is the Kona low, a low-pressure system that occurs when winds shift direction, affecting the islands’ leeward side.

Moisture from the Pacific Ocean condenses into snow at higher elevations due to these weather conditions, resulting in light dustings that linger on the mountain peaks for only a few days at a time.

For example, in late November 2023, a Kona Low brought 11 to 20 inches (28 to 51 centimeters) of rain to Hawaii, along with five inches (13 centimeters) of snowfall on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island1.

Regions Receiving Snowfall

Snowfall mostly occurs at elevations over 11,000 feet, limiting it to the highest peaks such as Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea, which means “white mountain” in Hawaiian, derives its name from the seasonal snowfall seen at its peak. While both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea receive annual snowfall, this is uncommon for Haleakalā.

Snow from a Kona Low in December 2021 blanketed the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and also resulted in heavy rains and a state of emergency for Hawaii due to flooding and road damage.

Video of Snowfall on Mauna Loa

A time-lapse video from the USGS captures a sequence from sunrise to sunset showing quick changes in weather conditions at the summit of Mauna Loa Volcano.

This short video depicts the transition from clear skies to dense clouds and continuous snowfall as a winter storm approaches1.

References

1 Carlowicz, M. (2021, February 8). Trading surfboards for snowboards. NASA Earth Observatory. Link

1 Pratt, S. E. (2021, December 8). Snow caps Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. NASA Earth Observatory. Link

1 Zhang, C., Hamilton, K., & Wang, Y. (2017). Monitoring and projecting snow on Hawaii Island. Earth’s Future, 5(5), 436-448. Link

This article was originally published on December 10, 2021 and has since been updated.

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