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Hawaii Storm Might Have Set the State's All-Time Record Low; Snow Fell on Maui, Too
Published: February 14, 2019
An unusually intense Hawaii storm might have broken a couple of all-time records for cold and snow in our 50th state.
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Just after midnight on Monday, a number of sensors atop Mauna Kea dipped below 12 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Mauna Kea Weather Center, a facility supporting a number of telescopes atop the 13,770-foot volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.
(Mauna Kea Weather Center)
The coldest among the readings gathered just after midnight Monday was 9 degrees (–12.8 degrees Celsius) at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF).
If the temperatures early Monday are deemed accurate, the readings from at least four stations on Mauna Kea would exceed the official all-time state record low in Hawaii of 12 degrees (-11.1 degrees Celsius) also set atop Mauna Kea on May 17, 1979.
However, weather historian Christopher Burt believes that 12-degree temperature may have been an error, and instead the all-time record low in Hawaii is 15 degrees, set Jan. 5, 1975, at Mauna Kea, according to a Weather Underground blog post.
Another contender for Hawaii's all-time low is the 9.5 degrees (-12.5°C) measured on Jan. 15, 1992, at the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope facility atop Mauna Kea, according to weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera.
An ad hoc Climate Extremes Committee made up of scientists from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, NWS meteorologists and the state climatologist might convene at a later date to evaluate the temperature measurements to determine if one of them will be accepted as a new state record.
Though chilly, temperatures during the most recent storm were nowhere near the all-time record lows for Honolulu (52 degrees), Lihue (46), Kahului (48) or Hilo (53).
The summit of Mauna Kea also saw extremely strong winds on Sunday. A peak wind gust to 191 mph was clocked at the Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) station, according to the National Weather Service.
"The summits of the highest volcanoes here have seen winds well over 100 mph on a number of occasions in the past," said Dr. Steven Businger, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Hawaii.
Due to icy conditions, the lone access road to the summit was closed to the public below the visitor information station during the storm.
Given how cold this Hawaii storm was, there were even reports of snow on Haleakala, a broad shield volcano on Maui.
NWS-Honolulu issued a winter weather advisory for brief, intense snow showers, icy conditions and freezing fog generally above 8,000 feet.
This isn't quite as unusual as it sounds. According to the Western Regional Climate Center, snow can fall several times a year atop this peak, roughly 10,000 feet elevation.
According to the Iowa Environmental Mesonet's archive, NWS-Honolulu issued winter weather advisories for Haleakala each of the past three years, on Feb. 18, 2018, Dec. 15, 2017 and Dec. 18, 2016, for snow, freezing rain and/or icy roads above 9,000 feet.
But there was a report Sunday of snow falling at Polipoli State Park, approximately 6,200 feet elevation, on the slope of Haleakala.
According to Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of State Parks, it may have been the first time snow was seen in a Hawaii state park, possibly the lowest-elevation snow of record in Hawaii.
Businger said that the intensity of the snowfall on Haleakala could have pulled colder air downward to elevations where snow is seldom seen.
But it also might not have been snow.
World records expert Maximiliano Herrera believes the precipitation wasn't pure snow, but rather graupel, small pellets of ice formed when tiny supercooled water droplets surround and freeze on a snowflake.
"The temperatures are absolutely incompatible with snow at (6,200 feet elevation)," Herrera told weather.com. "It was clear from the video that small hail or graupel fell and accumulated at certain elevations."
Regardless, it was certainly a bizarre sight.
NWS-Honolulu also noted significant wave heights at the Hanalei buoy, located just north of Hanalei Bay and the north shore of Kauai, reached a record height of 38 feet during the storm.
This so-called significant wave height is an average of the highest one-third of wave heights. As a rule of thumb, the highest wave you might encounter is roughly double the significant wave height.
NWS-Honolulu warned of open water wave heights up to 60 feet north of Kauai and Oahu during the storm.
String of Extreme Hawaii Weather
Given its typical "paradise" weather, one could make a strong argument that Hawaii has been the nation's most extreme weather state since last spring.
(Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Verdura/U.S. Coast Guard via AP)
In April 2018, a location on Kauai set a new national 24-hour rainfall record, picking up an incredible 49.69 inches of rain, which crushed the previous record from July 1979's Tropical Storm Claudette in Alvin, Texas (43 inches).
Just four months later, Hurricane Lane dumped just over 52 inches of rain at a location on the Big Island, the state's wettest tropical cyclone on record.
About three weeks after Lane on Sept. 12, Tropical Storm Olivia became the first tropical cyclone on record to landfall in Maui, bringing flooding rain.
Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the hurricane that didn't directly strike the main islands, but wiped a much smaller one out.
In late October, Hurricane Walaka tracked well west of Hawaii's largest islands, but washed over East Island, an 11-acre strip of sand in the French Frigate Shoals.
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