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Spring/Summer 2003

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The Climate Is Simply Delicious - Yum!
by Betty KAM     

Mark Twain wrote, "If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes." I say, "If you don't like the weather in Kona, just drive to some other part of the island." Hawaii is a marvel of nature. The weather is diverse, covering ten of the fifteen types of climates. Among them are tropical, moonsoonal, desert, and periglacial.

Big Island has the most diverse climate of all the islands. The factors that play into Hawaii's climate are latitude, the surrounding ocean, location relative to storm tracks, and the mountainous terrain. The diverse climate contributes to a collection of many micro-environments, possessing unique weather, plants and animals. A long day's drive can take you through tropical rainforests, cool alpine regions, stony deserts and sunny beaches. Because Hawaii is within the tropics, the length of day throughout the year is about the same. The longest day is just over 13 hours and the shortest is 11 hours.

Jack London wrote, "Hawaii is a Paradise...." The weather is lovely almost every day of the year. There are few days without some sunshine. High altitudes may be misty. Coastal areas are consistently warm, warmest on the leeward side where there is protection from the winds.

There are two seasons in Hawaii: summer (Kau in Hawaiian) from May to October and winter (Ho'oilo) from November to April. You know it is summer if the mango trees are laden with fruit and the white ginger fragrance fills the air. Surfers live for the big waves of the winter. Summer tends to be drier and winter to be rainier. The prevailing winds move from east to west and the volcanic mountains trap the moist air from the Pacific. As a result the windward sides (east and north) are cooler and wetter; the leeward sides (west and south) are warmer and drier. On the leeward side of the Big Island there are places which may only get five or six inches of rain a year.

Kailua-Kona is almost always sunny. The range of temperatures for February is 60 degrees to 80 degrees. In August you can expect temperatures between 69 degrees and 87 degrees. The humidity ranges from 50 to 80 per cent. Balmy breezes keep it comfortable. Occasionally, about 10 percent of the time, Kona winds come out of the south and west to bring stillness or warm, sticky air. (Kona is a Polynesian word that means leeward or South.) Kona and Kohala often experience clear mornings and afternoon clouds. Kona is protected from the tradewinds by Hualalai, which gets most of the rain. Kohala is the driest part of the island with an average of 10" a year. While there is an abundance of sunshine, the drawback is the strong afternoon breezes heated by the extensive lava fields.

Hilo, on the windward side, is the wettest city in the United States and may average over 100" of rain a year. A record of 153.93" was set in 1971. The National Weather Service reported that Hilo had the most rainfall for a 24 hour period in February of 1979. Would you believe 22.3"? The good news is that most of the rain falls at night. Daytime showers may be intense but are also short lived. The ocean on this side of the island is not as clear because of the amount of run-off, but here you will find plant heaven and breathtaking waterfalls.

Hawaii has a tropical climate and it is almost always raining somewhere on one of the islands, but often if you wait a short while the sun will come out and a rainbow will appear. Two ingredients are needed for rainbows: showers and sunshine. Position yourself so that the sun is at your back while you watch the falling water. Waimea has more rain than Kona, thus more opportunity for rainbows. Etheric rainbows can be seen at Rainbow Falls in Hilo; the best time for viewing is early morning when the sun has just risen. Rainbows have been the inspiration for some Hawaiian legends. Kahalaopuna is an ancient Hawaiian legend of the beautiful girl of the rainbow, betrothed to marry a chief named Kauhi. Another legend involving rainbows was first published in 1863 and named "The Hawaiian Romance of Laieikauai.

The water temperature ranges from 75 degrees in February to 82 degrees in September. The variation between day and night is only about one to two degrees. Hawaii is more than 2000 miles from the nearest continental land mass. No matter what the source, air masses are heated on their journey across the ocean. The air mass from the Artic can be warmed as much as 100 degrees before it reaches Hawaii. The water may be colder where fresh water springs percolate from the ocean floor. The ocean supplies moisture to the air and also acts as a giant thermostat. The Kona side has the calmest clearest water in the state and some of the best beaches in the United States. Generally summer waters are very gentle on all the beaches. Wave conditions are very localized, so if you don't find the surf you desire at one beach, travel to another.

The temperatures on the top of Mauna Kea are rarely below 30 degrees or above 50 degrees, but the wind chill factor can bring the temperature to below zero at the summit. The summit of Mauna Loa is about 10 degrees warmer. There is a noticeable difference between the morning and evening temperatures at high altitudes. Upcountry residents might be able to spend Christmas Eve gathered around the fireplace. Sometimes it even snows at the summit of Mauna Kea (13792 ft.) While you would be able to ski, don't look for a lodge or lifts.

Weather problems are an exception to the rule in Hawaii, but occasionally tsunamis, large tidal waves caused by far-off earthquakes, hit the island. In 1946 and 1960 tsunamis devastated small areas of the Big Island. During the winter of 1997-1998, El Nino caused a severe drought. While severe storms are uncommon, they do hit land in the Central Pacific about every eight to ten years. Hurricane Iniki hit the island of Kauai in 1992. Calculate.

Only in Hawaii are you able to experience vog. Does that look like fog influenced by a volcano? Vog is created when the sulfur dioxide gas emissions of the Kilauea volcano react chemically with sunlight, oxygen, dust particles and water in the air. It produces a hazy atmosphere that locals view as only an inconvenience. Daytime onshore breezes and nighttime off shore breezes rake the vog back and forth across Kona. Visitors to the Big Island who suffer from chronic diseases such as emphysema and asthma should consult with their doctors before visiting.

And Mark Twain sums it up, "The climate is simply delicious -- never cold at the sea level, and never really too warm, for you are at the half-way house -- that is, twenty degrees above the equator. But then you may order your own climate, for this reason: the eight inhabited islands are merely mountains that lift themselves out of the sea -- a group of bells, if you please, with some (but not very much) "flare" at their basis. You get the idea? Well, you take a thermometer, and mark on it where you want the mercury to stand permanently forever (with not more than 12 degrees variation) Winter and Summer. If 82 in the shade is your figure (with the privilege of going down or up 5 or 6 degrees at long intervals), you build your house down on the "flare" -- the sloping or level ground by the seashore -- and you have the deadest surest thing in the world on that temperature. And such is the climate of Honolulu, the capital of the kingdom. If you mark 70 as your mean temperature, you build your house on any mountain side, 400 or 500 feet above sea level. If you mark 55 or 60, go 1,500 feet higher. If you mark for Wintry weather, go on climbing and watching your mercury. If you want snow and ice forever and ever, and zero and below, build on the summit of Mauna Kea, 16,000 feet up in the air. If you must have hot weather, you should build at Lahaina, where they do not hang the thermometer on a nail because the solder might melt and the instrument get broken; or you should build in the crater of Kilauea which would be the same as going home before your time. You cannot find as much climate bunched together anywhere in the world as you can in the Sandwich Islands. You may stand on the summit of Mauna Kea, in the midst of snowbanks that were there before Capt. Cook was born, maybe, and while you shiver in your furs you may cast your eye down the sweep of the mountain side and tell exactly where the frigid zone ends and vegetable life begins; a stunted and tormented growth of trees shades down into a taller and freer species, and that in turn, into the full foliage and varied tints of the temperate zone; further down, the mere ordinary green tone of a forest washes over the edges of a broad bar of orange trees that embraces the mountain like a belt, and is so deep and dark a green that distance makes it black; and still further down, your eye rests upon the levels of the seashore, where the sugar-cane is scorching in the sun, and the feathery cocoa-palm glassing itself in the tropical waves; and where you know the sinful natives are lolling about in utter nakedness and never knowing or caring that you and your snow and your chattering teeth are so close by. So you perceive, you can look down upon all the climates of the earth, and note the kinds and colors of all the vegetations, just with a glance of the eye -- and this glance only travels about three miles as the bird flies, too.”


"Readers may submit editorial comments to any of our stories by sending an email to les@lbdcoffee.com. We would be happy to attach your comments and feedback to anything we publish online. Thank you for your interest."

Story appeared originally in Coffee Times print magazine and appears online for archival purposes only. Any use or reprinting of these stories without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited.

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