Typically there is a light rain over the West Maui Mountains in Lahaina.Picture the ultimate weather… mostly sunny, not too hot. Gentle breezes blowing. Never too cold. Cool nights. Some rain, but not usually too much.
Welcome to Hawaii!
The funny thing is that on the islands the forecast for each part of an island is often quite different. Surf, sun, rain, wind – are all variable and change constantly.
Many locals say – if you do not like the weather, wait five minutes it will change. That’s about right. It changes very fast.
Once I went up in a little Cessna plane with my roommate in the Air Force. He had just received his private pilot license. I paid the $50 for gas and we hit the skies in a little propeller engine plane from Dillingham Airfield on the north side of Oahu.
We had been up in the air for about twenty minutes when massive storm clouds started rolling in. We wanted to land but the air traffic controllers said to land in Honolulu where it was still sunny. We flew down there to find it rained out. They redirected us to the north again. We landed in a horrible rainstorm with forty mile-per-hour wind gusts and absolutely zero visibility.
I learned then, and never forgot, Hawaii weather changes in the blink of an eye.
On the big island of Hawaii you can ski at the top of Mauna Kea’s peak. A helicopter will need to drop you off – but it’s possible. You can get a deep tan reclining on a towel on the beach that same day when you’re finished. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano with such a high summit that it gets snow. Maui too has a very high dormant volcano, Haleakala Volcano which goes over 10,000 feet and gets quite cold, with snow at times too – but it quickly melts.
How Much Sun Does Hawaii Get?
Here’s a breakdown of the average number of days with sunshine per year in the main cities on each of the four major islands:
~ Hilo, Big Island: 168
~ Honolulu, Oahu: 271
~ Kahului, Maui: 276
~ Lihue, Kauai: 240
Source – National Climatic Data Center.
Year Round Heat
It’s warm all year. Some would call Hawaii “hot”. I never would, having lived in Miami, Tampa, and Thailand for a combined total of fifteen years. Those places are hot. Hawaii is the perfect weather for me, but you may find it hot all the time. I know people that sweat continually in Hawaii. They’re not doing anything physically, but they just sweat constantly. If you’re one of those people, Hawaii may not be the right place for you to live. If you think you can get used to it, make the effort, I’m sure you can, many people do.
I like to say there are no real weather seasons in Hawaii. Only warm, balmy weather and that’s about it. Sure, once per year you might get to breath fog on a cold December or January day, but it doesn’t happen often. Not even every year.
There are technically two seasons in Hawaii. Kau wela – the summer, goes from May to October. This is a warm, fairly dry time, but there are still many occasional rain showers coming through. Ho’oilo – the winter is from November to April and is characterized by slightly cooler temperatures and more rain.
Hawaii gets many sunny days each year. The weather in Hawaii is typically about 80 degrees and with a slight breeze called “trade winds” that blow from the northeast to the southwest. In fact, local Hawaiians often tell directions in relation to which side of the island gets the most wind. The northeast side of Oahu is also known as the “windward” side. The opposite is the leeward side.
Hawaii’s Blazing Sun
Hawaii is close to the equator so the sun is stronger here.
You’ll feel the sun’s intensity is different from when you lived in the mainland USA, even if you lived as far south as Miami, Florida. I sure did. The sun is more like a radiation heater than just a source of convection. It feels as though you’re being cooked from the inside. Sunburns can be especially nasty, I remember peeling thick layers of skin off my forehead and upper back when I got burned badly a few times. It only takes a few times to learn!
On clear sky days, the sun can be especially intense, so it is recommended you use hats and sunscreen to avoid negative effects. If you accidentally end up with sunburn, the local aloe plant cut open and applied directly is a soothing remedy.
Though not usually stifling, the air humidity in Hawaii can be something to get used to if you do not have wet air in your current home. You’ll notice it as you exit your air-conditioned plane if it’s especially hot and humid that day. You may even pass-out. Seriously, I know someone that did!
For most of us though, it isn’t that bad, and you’ll get used to it. The heat and humidity of Hawaii is tempered by the near constant trade winds that blow most months of the year. Trade winds are stronger during the summer and weaker through winter months.
Along with trade winds are the Kona winds, which come from the southeast. These occur during the winter months and bring rain with them.
Average Relative Humidity Range in Percent (Annual):
~ Honolulu, Oahu: 58 – 70
~ Kahului, Maui: 60 – 72
~ Lihue, Maui: 70 – 74
~ Hilo, Hawaii: 71 – 76
Source – National Climatic Data Center.
It rains often on all the islands. Not all at the same time over all islands, but at different times in different areas.
On average each year, the islands of Hawaii get seventy inches of rain. That’s almost eight trillion gallons of rainwater falling each year. Seems like a lot, right? It doesn’t seem like it, most of the rain falls in certain areas of the islands. It isn’t like you wake up to rain everyday!
The wettest island is Kauai – and this island also has the distinction of having the wettest spot on the entire planet. An average of 486 inches of rain falls there each year. Do you know how much SNOW that would be if it fell instead? Me neither, but it’s a lot of rain regardless. More than an inch of rain per day. That’s a lot!
Hilo on the Big Island Hawaii gets 130 to 200 inches of rain per year and is the wettest city in the United States.
There are some very dry spots in Hawaii too. Some places get less than six inches of rain per year!
There is a lovely type of rain the Hawaiians call “Kilihune” – it’s the soft misty rain that falls and cools you off on a hot day.
So, no matter which Hawaiian Island you choose to be living on – it rains often – but usually in short bursts. Some find that annoying. If you ride a motorcycle or bicycle a lot, you should be prepared for heavy showers occasionally. It happens, that’s Hawaii.
Rain is at its worst during the winter. Rain virtually stops in June and July – but there is sometimes the occasional shower anyway.
Hawaii is incredibly lush. There is a reason for that; it is raining every day somewhere on the islands. That’s a given. Even though the sun is shining very brightly and the rest of the sky is blue – there might be a rain cloud up over the mountains, dumping large amounts of rain on it. You can see this quite clearly, and nearly daily if you live in or near Lahaina, Maui by the West Maui Mountains.
If you live in Hawaii you’ll get used to the rain. It’s almost daily, and yet it doesn’t usually last more than thirty to sixty minutes. A few times per year it will rain for hours or days at a time. That’s bearable, right?
Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Just four hurricanes have hit the Hawaiian Islands over the years since 1957. Hawaii is on the border of a tropical zone and can get very strong winds at times, and even a tropical storm once or twice per year.
Storm effects are giant ocean swells, torrential rains, fast gusting winds – sometimes seventy miles per hour gusts or even faster. And of course, storms generate some gigantic waves.
Flash flooding can occur during heavy rain. Some tourists and locals alike have lost their lives while exploring normally placid streams or waterfalls. In particular, sea caves, and waterfalls like Maui’s Oheo Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools), should be very carefully explored or better – avoided, when there is rain upstream. Several times people died at this stunningly beautiful attraction.
A special note to those walking along sea-cliffs. Rogue waves are more common than you’d think, and you never know when they will hit. This is why those familiar with Hawaii’s waters will tell you to keep your eye on the ocean at all times. Waves might be two to three feet high for the majority of the day and then one comes “out of the blue” that is twelve feet or bigger. It happens. People die sometimes because of it. Many times death and injury are preventable just by keeping one eye on the water at all times.
In the entire world there are thirteen climate zones. Hawaii has eleven of them. Each of these zones has its own set of weather characteristics, flora, and fauna. Hawaii’s topography consists of high and low elevation, pressure changes, rain, winds, and surface qualities that combine to produce these different climate zones.
So, What Do You Think?
Does Hawaii have the ultimate weather?
Could you stand it for a couple of years?