In late November 2023, Hawaii’s highest peaks retained remnants of snow following a winter storm that inundated the islands with over a foot of precipitation. A Kona low, characterized by low pressure over the Pacific Ocean, unleashed abundant moisture across Hawaii from November 29 to December 1, 2023, leading to substantial rainfall. The Big Island and the eastern side of Maui bore the brunt, with measured rainfall ranging from 11 to 20 inches (28 to 51 centimeters) during this period, as reported by the National Weather Service.
Atop Hawaii’s tallest peaks, the recent storm brought not rain but up to five inches (13 centimeters) of snow to Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island. These volcanic summits, reaching elevations of about 13,800 and 13,700 feet above sea level, experienced cold air temperatures conducive to snowfall.
Although some of the previously visible snow had melted, lingering traces were captured in an image from December 5, 2023, taken by the OLI-2 on Landsat 9. The occasional snowfall on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa is a familiar occurrence, as evidenced by satellite images from 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2021, showcasing the temporary transformation of these volcanic landscapes into snowy vistas.
Snowfall on the Hawaiian Islands is frequently linked to a meteorological phenomenon known as a Kona low. This occurs when prevailing winds shift from the northeast to the southwest, sweeping over the leeward, or “Kona,” side of the islands. As this moist air encounters the elevated topography of the mountains, such as Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, it is compelled to rise, leading to the precipitation of moisture as heavy rain and snow.
Kona storms are prevalent in the region between October and April, contributing to the occasional snowy landscapes captured in satellite imagery. The NASA Earth Observatory image, credited to Lauren Dauphin and utilizing Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey, offers a visual insight into this atmospheric phenomenon. The accompanying story, crafted by Emily Cassidy, provides additional context to the meteorological dynamics shaping Hawaii’s weather patterns.