Snow in Hawaii: Mauna Kea Covered in Up to 8 Inches in Unseasonal Snowstorm

Updated | Hawaii has experienced an unseasonal snowstorm, covering the top of Mauna Kea, the tallest volcanic mountain on the islands, with up to 8 inches of white snow. Although snow on the Hawaiian mountains is not as uncommon as it sounds, the timing of the snowfall is earlier than meteorologists would expect.

A quick Google of Hawaii weather reveals that today’s average temperature is a mild 75 degrees (24 degrees Celsius) but up on Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the Big Island of Hawaii, it’s close to freezing, with winds whipping up to 25 miles per hour, a statement from Mauna Kea Weather Center in Hawaii reported. As of yesterday morning, Mauna Kea was completely saturated with icy rain and snow. The rain and snow is expected to carry on until the end of the week.

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The statement also advised that there is a high risk for a mixture of snow and rain on Mauna Kea virtually anytime this week, but especially on Wednesday and Thursday night.

11_29_hawaii Hawaii’s volcanic mountains can reach elevations high enough to permit snowfall. A recent snowstorm has covered the top of Mauna Kea, the tallest volcanic mountain on the islands, with up to 8 inches of white snow. MIKE NELSON/AFP/Getty Images

This year’s snowstorm is earlier than usual, with past snowfalls in December and January. In addition, the snowfall in the Pacific Island state is especially strange considering that national snowfall for the rest of the country is at a record low, and down 8.5 percent as of yesterday, The Washington Post reported.

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Snowfall in Hawaii is not only common, it’s actually an expected yearly occurrence. This is due to high elevation on the volcanic mountains. At this elevation, up to 13,000 feet, the mountaintops are physically in the clouds. According to Popular Science, if the clouds have enough ice crystals and temperatures are cold enough, you get snow.

In fact, Mauna Kea translates to “white mountain,” as the mountaintop’s high elevation means that it is quite often covered in a snow. However, the snow is usually just a light dusting and rarely stays on the ground for more than a few days, Ken Rubin, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii told The Weather Channel.

The snow only reaches the tops of the islands’ three tallest volcanoes: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa and Haleakala. Mauna Kea reaches an elevation of nearly 14,000 feet and is a popular destination for tourists who may want to catch the sunrise of a breathtaking view of the Hawaiian Island. However, the summit is now closed until further notice as the roads have been deemed unsafe due to fog and ice.

The snowstorm, though earlier than usual, is not the strangest winter weather to ever hit the island. Ken Rubin, a professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, noted in a blog on the university’s site that the islands have experienced several “freak storms” throughout the century that led to snowfalls at elevations as low as 3,000 feet. However, this snow has always melted very quickly and would not disrupt your tropical vacation too much.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated Mauna Loa was the highest peak on the Big Island of Hawaii. Mauna Kea is both the Big Island’s and Hawaiian islands’ highest peak. In addition, Ken Rubin is a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in Honolulu, and not at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, as previously written.