The Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded in Hawaii Will Make Your Teeth Chatter

Frozen Palm Tree
© goffkein.pro/Shutterstock.com

Written by Heather Hall

Updated: April 11, 2023

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Hawaii is a group of islands located in the central Pacific Ocean, southeast of Japan and north of Australia. It is made up of eight main islands – Kauaʻi, Niʻihau, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, Lānaʻi, Maui, and Hawaii Island (also known as the Big Island). Hawaii is part of the United States, and its people are citizens with full constitutional rights. Though Hawaii is widely recognized for its near-perfect climate, it can get surprisingly cold in this tropical state. Let’s learn about the coldest temperature recorded in Hawaii.

Climate

Haleiwa

During the summer, the average temperature in Hawaii at sea level is around 85° Fahrenheit.

©iStock.com/ensar zengin

Hawaii has a tropical climate, with warm temperatures year-round. There are only two main seasons: summer and winter. During the summer, the average temperature at sea level is around 85° Fahrenheit, and in the winter, it is 78° on average. However, it can vary depending on the season and location. Rainfall varies throughout the islands as well, with some areas receiving more rain than others. Despite its tropical climate, Hawaii does experience chilly weather from time to time due to strong winds coming down from the North Pacific Ocean or high elevations on some of the islands.

Coldest Temperature Ever Recorded

Interestingly, Hawaii is the only state in the US that has never had a subzero temperature. Previously, the coldest temperature ever officially documented in Hawaii was 12 degrees. This was measured at the Mauna Kea Observatory (13,796 feet up) on May 17, 1979. Unfortunately, it was later determined that the weather station used to measure this data was unreliable.

On February 11th, 2019, there were readings of temperatures as low as 8 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit on Mauna Kea. These readings came from several sensors, making this the new record for the lowest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii. Unusually low pressure passed through Hawaii, causing a very chilly day in the Aloha State.

Where is Mauna Kea?

This lovely dormant one-million-year-old volcano is located on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is 13,803 feet tall at its peak and last erupted four-six thousand years ago.

In ancient times only high-ranking rulers were allowed to visit the peaks of islands, as these locations were thought to be sacred. When settlers arrived, they started grazing livestock in the area, which damaged the ecological balance.

Why is Mauna Kea so Cold?

The Summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii - The Coldest Place in Hawaii

The cold air in the craters of Mauna Kea is caused by wind coming to a standstill.

©Chris Finch Photography/Shutterstock.com

Mauna Kea, Hawaiʻi’s highest peak, is a sacred spot to many Hawaiian locals and stargazers. It is the only place in Hawaii where one can find permafrost, which is a layer of ice and soil that stays frozen, usually existing in very chilly locations around the world.

The cold air in the craters of Mauna Kea is caused by wind coming to a standstill. This creates pools of cold air that become trapped between the rocks, which helps preserve patches of ice and frozen soil even during the night when temperatures are typically higher. The combination of these factors makes Mauna Kea one of the coldest places in Hawaii, with temperatures at its summit often reaching below 20°F. Scientists believe this phenomenon has been occurring for millennia and could continue into the future as long as conditions remain unchanged.

Does It Snow in Hawaii?

Hawaii is known for its warm climate, which attracts many people looking to escape the cold. But some climate-curious folks wonder if it ever snows in this tropical paradise. Is snow even a possibility?

Yes! However, snowfall only takes place at high altitudes of 10,000 feet and above. These include the three tallest volcanoes. Other places have cold temperatures but do not have snowfall.

In Hawaii, the wind direction can vary dramatically due to a ‘Kona Low,’ which causes snowfall. This usually only happens once a year or so. The high peaks of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Haleakala get most of the snowfall. Snow sticks around for three to six days on average.

Mauna Kea, Hawaii Wildlife

Wildlife in Hawaii is abundant, but the subalpine and alpine conditions of Mauna Kea present challenging circumstances. The majority of the animals you will see on top of this volcano are birds, insects, bats, and spiders.

Palila

Hawaii is home to unique species of animals and plants, like the Palila bird and the Māmane tree. The Palila’s beak is perfectly shaped to crack open the hard seedpods of the Māmane tree, which is its main source of food. Sadly, the Palila is critically endangered, with only 940 left in the world.

The Palila relies on the Māmane tree to reproduce successfully and has been nicknamed “The Māmane Muncher.” In times of drought, when Māmane seed production is diminished, the Palila usually do not attempt to breed.

Palila are honeycreepers and live in open forests of Māmane trees. They were once found on many islands in Hawaii but are now only living in a 25-square-mile area of Mauna Kea.

Non-native plants and animals, which were brought to Hawaii from elsewhere, are the biggest threat to the 6-inch Palila bird. Domestic sheep and mouflon sheep were introduced in the 1960s and have been reproducing rapidly, eating Māmane saplings and trees. This has been a major contributor to the decrease in Palila numbers.

The Palila bird is also vulnerable to the impact of invasive species, such as cats and mongooses, which feed on their eggs and nestlings. Additionally, these birds are highly susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases like avian malaria, and the effects of climate change may further increase the risk of infection in their remaining population.

ʻAkiapolaʻau

The ʻAkiapolaʻau (ah-kee-ah-POH-LAH-OW) is a type of bird that lives in Hawaii and has a unique bill with a long, curved upper portion and a short bottom mandible. This special bill allows them to hunt for insects that live under bark in the same way that a woodpecker hunts. Additionally, they make noises similar to woodpeckers, knocking about while they search trees for food.

This lovely songbird was once distributed all around the island of Hawaii. But in the 1970s, its abundance and range began to severely decline. It now lives only in high-elevation forests, including those on top of Mauna Kea.

Conservationists have put up a fence on the highest parts of Mauna Kea volcano to protect the native Māmane forests and the ʻAkiapolaʻau, as sheep have caused severe damage by overgrazing. The ʻAkiapolaʻau are an endangered species, with less than 1,900 left in the world.

What Other Animals Survived the Cold?

Hawaiian Hoary Bat
The Hawaiian hoary bat is a native species that lives on the Hawaiian Islands, particularly in the alpine environment of Mauna Kea.

The Hawaiian hoary bat is a native species that live on the Hawaiian Islands, particularly in the alpine environment of Mauna Kea. Its fur is brown and frosted white on its back. People should be careful not to upset this endangered creature if they come across one.

Approximately 40 varieties of arthropods have been recognized on Mauna Kea. These include centipedes, beetles, moths, spiders, and lice. Most of them are scavengers and predators, while only a few types consume plants exclusively. Scavengers tend to inhabit snowfields and cinder cones, while the plant eaters typically inhabit the Māmane woodlands or the alpine shrublands.


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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