Friday, December 26, 2014

WEATHER ANOMALIES: White Christmas In Hawaii - Blizzard Blankets Big Island's Mountains In Snow?!

December 26, 2014 - HAWAII
- Yes, there were blizzard warnings in effect in Hawaii, where the two highest mountain peaks on the Big Island eventually saw a White Christmas.

Blizzard warnings were in effect on Christmas Eve for Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa above 11,500 feet for strong winds and heavy snow which led to blowing and drifting snow. By definition, winds must be at least 35 mph or greater with falling or blowing snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less for at least 3 hours to reach blizzard criteria.

Lower elevations saw heavy rain and were under flash flood watches through Christmas Eve.

This was due to a sharp upper trough west of the Big Island which brought enough moisture and cold air aloft to produce snow in the higher elevations of Hawaii's Big Island.

Snowfall totals of up to 8 inches were expected, with higher drifts. Sustained winds ranged from 40 to 55 mph with gusts over 80 mph.

The Mauna Kea Weather Center reported a temperature of 24 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit around 2 a.m. local time Thursday, along with sustained winds of 53 mph and gusts as high as 82 mph. This resulted in a wind chill of just 2 degrees.

Travel to the mountains' summits was dangerous and potentially life-threatening through Christmas morning. The road to the summit of Mauna Kea was closed as of Wednesday evening due to ice and snow on the roads along with low visibility.

This is only the second blizzard warning that the National Weather Service office in Honolulu has issued since 1986. The only other blizzard warning was on Dec. 5, 2007. The National Weather Service reported that Park Rangers saw 5 to 7 foot "frozen drifts of snow" on roads to the Mauna Kea summit during the Dec. 5-7, 2007 event.

Snow in Hawaii: It Happens More Often Than You Think

Palm trees, sandy beaches and tropical breezes typically come to mind when thinking about the Hawaiian Islands.

And when brainstorming a fun Hawaiian activity, the question "Hey bro, wanna go hang ten on some Maui waves?" will pop up more often than "Hey bro, wanna go shred some pineapple powder on Mauna Kea?"
You may be surprised to learn that you can actually do both!

Yes, It Actually Snows in Hawaii

Despite its tropical latitude farther south than Miami, snow does fall in Hawaii, thanks to elevation.

According to Ken Rubin, an assistant professor of geology and geophysics at the University of Hawaii, "it snows here every year, but only at the very summits of our three tallest volcanoes (Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Haleakala)."

"The snow level almost never gets below 9,000 feet in Hawaii during the winter, but since these mountains are taller than 13,600 feet, 13,700 feet and 10,000 feet, respectively, they get dusted with snow a few times a year. It rarely stays on the ground for more than a few days though."

Can You Really Ski in Hawaii?

Technically, it is possible to ski in Hawaii, but there are a lot of caveats.

Mauna Kea Ski Corporation explains that "Mauna Kea is a National Science Reserve and is not maintained as a ski area. Skiing areas may have unmarked and exposed rocks. Adverse weather conditions may arise unexpectedly... Most runs are for intermediate to advanced skiers/snowboarders - weather permitting."

In addition, the Hawaii Ski Club cautions potential skiers that "there are no lifts, no grooming, no resort, but a road goes to the summit to serve the dozen or so world-class observatories located at the summit. You must have a 4-wheel drive vehicle to get to the summit, which serves as your 'lift'." The club adds that skiers take turns being the driver, picking up the other skiers at the bottom of the runs and ferrying them up to the summit.

"Conditions at the top are extremely variable. Winter temperatures range from 25 to 40 degrees, but wind chill and the high altitude can make it seem much colder. Between April and November the weather is milder, with daytime temperatures varying from 30 to 60 degrees."

Bottom line, it may be better to hang ten near the beach rather than ski down a Hawaiian mountain. Thankfully though, technology is on snowbirds' side: beautiful views of Mauna Kea's peaks can be seen via the Mauna Kea Weather Center's web cams. - Weather.

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