Hawaii is known for its tropical climate and sunny beaches. Did you know, though, that it also has a place that can get downright chilly in some spots? Most people can’t imagine what Hawaii would be like below freezing, but incredibly, it has happened before and will likely happen again! Today, we are going to explore this unique spot and try to understand what allows it to get so cold. Let’s get started.
The Coldest Place in Hawaii
The summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the island of Hawai’i, is the coldest place in the state. Located at an elevation of 13,803 feet above sea level, the peak of Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii. It’s also the second-highest peak of an island on earth. It is also 125 feet higher than its more massive neighbor, Mauna Loa. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was measured on the crater floor of Mauna Kea. A temporary weather station was set up there.
The summit of Mauna Kea lies on the rim of Pu’uwēkiu. The frigid temperatures here make it a unique and unforgettable destination for anyone seeking a break from the tropical heat. Despite its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the summit of Mauna Kea can experience below-freezing temperatures. This makes it a must-visit for those looking to experience a different side of Hawaii.
The Unique History and Ecology of Mauna Kea
In addition to being the coldest place in Hawaii, the summit of Mauna Kea also holds great cultural and historical significance. In Hawaiian religion, the peaks of the island of Hawai’i are considered sacred and were once only accessible to high-ranking ali’i. Ancient Hawaiians living on the slopes of Mauna Kea relied on its extensive forests for food and used the dense volcano-glacial basalts on its flanks to produce tools. When Europeans arrived in the late 18th century, they introduced cattle, sheep, and other game animals. Many of these were released, became feral, and began to disrupt the volcano’s delicate ecological balance. Currently, there are public programs and legal conversations happening in order to restore the ecology around the mountains and ensure the preservation of endemic species.
Today, Mauna Kea can be divided into three distinct sections. These are an alpine climate at its summit, a Sophora chrysophylla-Myoporum sandwicense (a type of dry flower biome with the native name of “māmane-naio)” forest, and an Acacia koa-Metrosideros polymorpha (or koa-ʻōhiʻa) forest at its base. The forest near the base of the mountain has been mostly cleared and turned into sugar farms.
The Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded in Hawaii
Mauna Kea is the coldest place in Hawaii, but it also holds the current record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state! The coldest temperature ever recorded there was 12 °F, which occurred at the Mauna Kea Observatory on May 17, 1979. This record-breaking low temperature makes Hawaii the only state in the U.S. that has never experienced subzero temperatures.
Although 12 degrees is cold, Hawaii still has the “highest lowest” temperature of any state in the US. Still, Florida holds the record for the warmest state by annual average, with an annual temp of nearly 72 °F.
Why Does Mauna Kea Get So Cold?
The main reasons for the temperatures at Mauna Kea are its high elevation and strong winds common at its peak. Additionally, the crater at the summit of the volcano, known as Pu’uwēkiu, allows cold air to sink into it, creating even colder temperatures. This unique combination of high elevation, strong winds, and the presence of a crater makes Mauna Kea the coldest spot in the state.
Incredibly, snow is a common sight on top of the peak of Mauna Kea. This makes it one of the most stunning landscape elements across the tropical state. During Hawaii’s winter season, which runs from December to February, snowfall is more frequent at the summit. However, the volcano peak also occasionally receives snow dusting even during Hawaii’s dry season, which runs from May to October. The strength of the snowstorm can determine how long the snow will linger on the ground. These periods can range from three to six days. The three tallest peaks in Hawaii, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala are the only places that receive snow in the state.
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