What images come to mind when you think of Hawaii? I bet you see sun-kissed skin, beautiful beaches, and clear blue skies. It is a great destination for anyone who loves the sun — or, must we say, hates the cold.
But did you ever wonder, does it snow in Hawaii? You probably think I am kidding, but I am not. So, now let’s dig into the how, where, and when.
Does It Snow in Hawaii?
Areas close to the sea hardly ever get too chilly, let alone experience rainfall. But what geographical phenomenon sets Hawaii apart?
It is a weather phenomenon called Kona Low or Leeward Storm. This explains why Hawaii experiences frequent and significant changes in wind direction. These changes result in snow.
Although it occasionally occurs in the summer, this occurs most frequently during the wet season. But it does snow at least once a year. And the snow covers these areas for at least 20 days each year.
But where does it snow in Hawaii? Throughout the island or at specific locations?
No, not everywhere. Snow can be seen only on high, elevated areas like mountain tops, which are around 10,000 feet above the ground. So, the three tallest volcanic mountains, Haleakala, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa, are the only places that receive snow. Other areas may get cold due to snow in nearby areas but never experience snow themselves.
Excited? Me too. Planning a trip to Hawaii? You might have to act quickly, then.
The International Pacific Research Center has conducted a study at the University of Hawaii that found saddening results. It states that snowfall in the area could soon become a thing of the past, courtesy of climate change.
Snow Mountains of Hawaii
Image source: Pinterest
If you want to experience snow in Hawaii, you need to explore these mountains:
Location: Haleakala National Park of the Maui Islands
Height: 10,000 feet
The mountain has been dormant for the past four centuries. It offers scenic views and is perfect for nature enthusiasts and hikers.
Haleakala, which means “house of the rising sun”, is the perfect location for witnessing picturesque sunrises and sunsets. Due to its lower height compared to the other two mountains, it gets the least amount of snowfall. It also has many nature trails that are worth exploring, and some even lead to the top.
The most notable snowfall on Haleakala occurred in 1978 and gave rise to a brief snowstorm. The island experiences exceptionally cold winters, even when it doesn’t snow.
Snow does fall in other areas of Maui Island, such as the Koolau Gap, though it is uncommon.
The mountain last received snowfall in December last year. It did not get particularly thick, though, and only lasted for a day or two.
2. Mauna Loa
Location: South-central part of the Big Island of Hawaii
Height: 13,000 feet
Mauna Loa is the world’s largest active volcano. It last erupted on November 27, 2022, and lasted for 12 days, ending on December 13th. It created a rare sight on the Big Island. While the Loa Mountain was raging hot and spewing fire, at Mauna Kea, just 127 feet higher, it was snowing.
Mauna Loa translates to “long mountain” and is just that. With a length of 120 km and a width of 103 km, Mauna Loa constitutes around half the landmass of Hawaii (51%, to be precise).
It receives very high snowfall, and the entire area gets a thick ice coating. The latest snowfall Mauna Loa received was this year, in January and February. The snow was so thick that the officials had to shut down the parks and clear the roads.
3. Mauna Kea
Location: North-central part of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Height: 13,800 feet
The tallest of the three, Mauna Kea is a dormant mountain that the natives have nicknamed “white mountain”. They consider it sacred and believe that it connects them to the realm of the gods. It is recognized for its gorgeous, picturesque beauty, and as the best spot for skiing.
It receives the most snow, averaging between 40 and 75 inches, and it occasionally snows in the summer. It is deemed uninhabitable because of the snowfall and below-freezing temperatures.
However, the summit is still worth a visit. You can hike your way up to stargaze or to see the sunset. But the journey is not going to be an easy one.
You might have trouble breathing due to the high altitude, thin air, and colder temperatures, and your winter clothing will weigh you down. Also, the roads are treacherous, with sharp turns and steep inclines.
Like Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea received the latest snowfall this year — in January and February. Before admissions to the park could resume in January, a foot of snow had to be cleared.
The Mauna Kea Observatory is a must-see if you decide to travel there. At an elevation of 14,000 feet, it is located above the cloud line. It is always covered in snow, but once a year, the clouds rise above the observatory and offer scenic views of the mystical place.
Can You Ski in Hawaii?
Now that we know it snows in Hawaii, the next big question is, “Can we ski?” Yes, you can. But there are some things you need to keep in mind.
1. You can only go skiing on the Big Island, mainly on Mauna Kea.
2. You need to remember that the place is sacred to the locals.
3. Mauna Kea is also a National Science Reserve.
4. Skiing on Mauna Kea is not for the faint-hearted.
Mauna Kea is not an established ski spot, so there are no established ski resorts. You will have to bring all the necessary equipment and be self-sufficient. And there are no lifts to take you to the top.
Going in a four-wheeler and in a larger group is advisable. The ski areas are not maintained and can be risky. Only people who consider themselves expert skiers must try their hand.