The National Weather Service in Honolulu, Hawaii has raised a Blizzard Warning for portions of the Big Island where heavy snow and winds with the potential to do damage are expected tomorrow into Saturday. The Blizzard Warning is in effect from Friday night through Saturday night and includes the higher elevations of the Big Island of Hawaii which include Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
Several inches fell on Mauna Kea on Tuesday, prompting officials to close roads due to ice and snow conditions there.
According to the National Weather Service, a foot or more of snow is possible between Friday and Saturday; however, what will make conditions really bad will be the powerful winds. Wind gusts higher than 100 mph are possible, which is the equivalent of a mid range Category 2 Hurricane’s winds on the Saffir Simpson wind scale. “Blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility at times, with periods of zero visibility,” the National Weather Service Warns.
Bluntly, the National Weather Service warns, “Travel could be very difficult to impossible.”
A Winter Storm Watch means there is potential for significant snow or ice accumulations that may impact the summits. Anyone planning travel to the summits, including hikers and campers, should monitor the latest forecasts and consider postponing their trip until improved weather returns.
In addition to the Blizzard Warning, the National Weather Service has also issued a High Wind Warning. In addition to the higher terrain of Hawaii Island, the High Wind Warning is also in effect for Maui and Haleakala, a popular tourist attraction on the Valley Isle. The High Wind Warning is in effect from 6pm Friday until 6am Monday local time. Southwest winds of 50 to 80 mph are likely with localized gusts over 100 mph. The National Weather Service says, “Winds this strong will make driving and walking extremely dangerous. The winds can cause significant damage or injuries.”
Tourists and local residents should avoid the Blizzard Warning and High Wind Warning zones until this significant winter storm passes. The warnings are up for elevations at and above 6,000 feet.
While most people don’t associate the tropical paradise Hawaii is known for with snow, they’re surprised to learn that it does snow in the winter due to the elevation of these volcanic peaks. Mauna Kea is the highest of the bunch at 13,803 feet. Maui’s Haleakala is much lower at 10,023 feet. Because of that difference, Hawaii Island will see snow more frequently than the lower Maui Island. Just one storm last January dropped 2-3 feet of snow on Hawaii Island and created snow drifts that were far deeper.
In addition to coating Mauna Kea, this new snowstorm could bring snow to Mauna Loa, considered to be the world’s largest active volcano. While it’s larger in volume than Mauna Kea, it’s a tad bit shorter, standing up at 13,678 feet compared to Mauna Kea’s 13,803. Because Mauna Loa is an active volcano and Mauna Kea isn’t, there isn’t much in the way of buildings or telescopes on it. While there are science stations and the HI-SEAS Lunar / Mars simulating lab are on Mauna Loa, a single narrow road rides up the slope and it stops short of the summit. Both roads up Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are likely to be closed during and immediately after the storm.