Three storms have thrown snow on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea

The words “snow” and “Hawaii” are not mentioned often in the same paragraph – or even on the same vacation. But Hawaii does snow almost every year, and in 2021 the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on the Big Island have had at least three deep cold front snow in the past few weeks – as has Haleakala, Maui. This means that there are currently snow caps on the three highest mountains in Hawaii.

In this image from February 6, 2021, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat took 8 images of the Big Island in natural colors, showing plenty of snow on the two peaks. Almost every year Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa – at an altitude of 4,200 meters – are dusted for at least a few days. But this year the snow was more like a winter blanket of snow.

An image dated February 6, 2021 from the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 shows images of the Big Island in natural colors with plenty of snow on the two peaks. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory

And as for the Hawaiian snowfall affecting vacation plans, it happened to me.

Ten years ago, while on a trip to the Big Island, I planned a tour to get to the summit of Mauna Kea and see the main telescopes located there. But while enjoying a sunny day on one of the black sand beaches, I received a call saying the tour to the summit had to be canceled because a blizzard had dumped near a foot of snow on the summit of Mauna Kea, the roads would not be in time for cleared my tour. As you can imagine it was a huge disappointment.

But with the variety of climates on the Big Island – at least 8 in some ways – there is always a multitude of activities. I had to settle for a helicopter tour where I saw the telescopes from afar.

A view of the snow capped peak of Mauna Kea as seen from a helicopter in January 2011. Image by Nancy Atkinson.

This year the road to the top of Mauna Kea was closed again last week and a strong wind was blowing at 45 to 75 mph.

NASA’s Earth Observatory website states that snowfall in Hawaii is often associated with a weather phenomenon known as the Kona Low. Winds that normally blow from the northeast shift and blow from the southwest. The leeward or “Kona” side winds pull moisture out of the tropical Pacific, turning it from rain to snow as the air soars high.

A close-up view of Mauna Loa summit from the Landsat 8 satellite. Photo credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

According to news, Hawaiians with snowboards and boogie boards have found their way into the volcanic mountains to take advantage of the snow. Others have filled their pickup truck beds to bring friends some of the white stuff.

The latest webcam image from the summit of Mauna Kea can be found here.

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