Now I’m no expert but with 3 trips and 3 islands under my belt I do think I can share some insight into Hawaii’s varied climate.
Whenever I tell people I’m heading to the Islands for vacation I am always asked about the weather. Even better was when there was a headline in BOLD letters “SNOW IN HAWAII”. I love it! So let me share what little I do know about Hawaii and its weather.
For the most part weather in Hawaii is fairly consistent year round. There are 2 seasons, summer from May to October and winter which runs from November to April. Daytime temps in the summer are around 85 degrees F and only slightly lower in winter at an average of 78 degrees F.
So how can there be snow if it’s 78 F you ask.
Well the islands have an amazing diversity of micro-environments. Each have their own unique weather, plants and animals. Did you know a volcano like Kilauea creates its own weather? It sure does and we experienced that the first night on the Big Island. As we drove from Hilo to our time share we hit a heavy fog bank and lots of misty air. It was so dark and hard to see that it made for a very stressful drive for our first night there. Only after we visited Volcano National Park did we find out that it was from the volcano. The islands are all of volcanic origins with topography that ranges from sandy, sea level beaches to towering volcanic mountains.
Mauna Loa on the Big Island is the world’s largest active volcano. It extends 13,697 feet above sea level but there is another 3100 below sea level. When you hear that there has been snow in Hawaii it is likely to be on either Mauna Loa or Mauna Kea, also on the Big Island. So you could go skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon all on the same island.
By the way, Mauna Kea is even taller than Mauna Loa and is the location of the world’s largest observatory.
So now that the matter of snow has been addressed let’s talk about the trade winds. Sometimes they can be pretty strong as Sandy and I experienced when we explored Pali Lookout (Nu’uanu Pali) on Oahu. But thanks to these prevailing breezes even 85 F is comfortable.
The trade winds bring moist , cool air into the northeastern slopes of the mountains. As the winds are forced up the mountain slopes the air cools and the moisture condenses causing rain. ( Sorry for the science lesson) This is why the islands seem to have a split personality, warm and wet on one side and desert dry on the other.
Most of the resorts and tourist destinations are on the dry side. Tourists don’t like to get rained on. They want to bask on the sandy beaches and drink their tropical drinks with little umbrellas. I like the beaches and snorkeling but I also love the lush green of the rain forest. The Big Island is a great example . The beautiful botanical gardens are all around Hilo because it is on the windward side of the Big Island but the resorts are on the Kona side. Driving from one side of the island to the other is dramatic. You leave the moist rainforest, drive a twisting road over the mountains (with outstanding vistas at every turn) and hit the flat, dry, arid side of the island. You drive through desert and lava fields to reach Kona.
This wet/dry pattern is repeated to varying degrees on each of the islands. Depending on where you are you can experience tropical rain forests, cool alpine regions, arid deserts, and sunny beaches – all within the span of just a few miles. Is it any wonder that I’m enamored of the islands? Like thousands of people before me, I fell in love with this island paradise.