Snow in Hawaii

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The Hawaiian Islands are a very tropical place to most people. Year round warm weather is what people think of for this state located about 2,000 miles from the U.S. mainland in the Pacific Ocean.

Despite the mild temperatures that most of the island enjoys, Hawaii does get some snow each year at elevations mostly at peaks over 13,000 feet.

Kona Low Produces Snow in Hawaii

Snow is frequently connected with a Kona low, which happens when winds that normally blow from the northeast shift and begin to blow from the southwest, over the islands’ leeward or “Kona” side.

The wind that blows in from the leeward side pulls in moisture from the Pacific Ocean that condenses into snow at the higher elevations of Hawaii.

A natural-color satellite image of snow covering the peaks of two volcanos.
Snow on the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on February 6, 2021. Image: Landsat 8, NASA.

The snow produces from this effect is usually little more than a dusting that stays on the peaks of mountains in Hawaii for only a few days.

Snow on the Volcanos of Hawaii

Hawaii is home to three very tall volcanos: Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Haleakala that reach over 9,000 feet in elevation. Mauna Kea, the tallest is 13,796 feet (4,205.0 meter). Mauna Loa is 13,679 feet (4,169 meters) and Haleakalā is 10,023 feet (3,055 meters). While snow will regularly fall on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea each year, snow rarely falls on Haleakalā.

The first week of December in 2021 brought another Kona low that blanketed the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Snow blanketing the peak of a volcano in Hawaii as seen in this satellite image.
Snow fall blanketing the peak of Mauna Kea on December 6, 2021. Image: Landsat 8, NASA.

The storm also brought heavy rains and a state of emergency was declared on December 6, 2021 for Hawaii due to flooding and road damage.

Timelapse Video of Snow on Mauna Loa

This video from the USGS depicts a time-lapse sequence from sunrise to sunset on Tuesday, January 28, using images from our webcam at the summit of Mauna Loa Volcano (13,680 ft above sea level).

The day starts clear with views across the peak caldera (Moku’weoweo) that quickly gives way to dense clouds and continuous snowfall as a winter storm approaches.

This short video highlights how quickly changes in weather conditions can happen in Hawai’i’s alpine zones.

References

Carlowicz, M. (2021, February 8). Trading surfboards for snowboards. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/147895/trading-surfboards-for-snowboards

Pratt, S. E. (2021, December 8). Snow caps Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. NASA Earth Observatory. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/149189/snow-caps-mauna-kea-and-mauna-loa

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