While the calendar says it’s mid April and the map says it’s Hawaii, Old Man Winter doesn’t care: heavy snow is coming to Hawaii’s Big Island. The National Weather Service in Honolulu, Hawaii has upgraded a Winter Storm Watch that was up earlier for portions of the Big Island to a Winter Storm Warning. According to the National Weather Service, “A Winter Storm Warning for snow means severe winter weather conditions are expected. Strong winds are also possible. This will make travel vey hazardous or impossible.”
The Warning is in effect for now through 6pm local time on Friday for Big Island Summits above 12,000 feet. “Roads to the summits are expected to become snow covered and slippery, resulting in difficult travel conditions. Significant reductions in visibility are also expected, with visibilities near zero at times. Strengthening winds may also result in blowing and drifting snow,” the National Weather Service Honolulu office warns. 6-12″ of snow is expected to fall in the warning area.
While most associate Hawaii with warm tropical tradewinds and sipping icy umbrella drinks on sunny beaches dotted by palm trees, snow is no stranger to Hawaii. During a storm in 2016, Ken Rubin, Geology and Geophysics Professor at the University of Hawaii said, “It snows here every year, but only at the very summits of our three tallest volcanoes.” Those volcanoes are Haleakala on Maui and Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. “The snow level never gets below 9,000 feet in Hawaii during the winter, but since these mountains are taller…they get dusted with snow a few times a year.”
Snow can also fall in severe storms during other times of the year. Snow fell in the middle of June in 2017 on Mauna Kea and also fell in mid July of 2016. The combination of cooler than normal upper air temperatures and thunderstorms bringing in moisture on these high peaks makes it possible.