Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What's the weather really like?

Last night we had our first really hard rain in months.  Although rain is in the forecast again today, it is perfectly sunny and clear down here at the Inn right now.  The ocean looks bright blue, the water is calm, and you can see for miles. 

This brings up an interesting and un-answerable question: What’s the weather like in Hawaii?  Of course we get asked this all the time, and we try to answer as best as possible, but it’s tricky.  For one, it really depends on where you are on the island.  To start, each island has both a windward (east) and leeward (west) side.  The windward sides are always wetter, the leeward, drier.  For example, on the Big Island, Hilo is the biggest town on the east side, known for its surrounding waterfalls and jungle and botanical gardens, but is also the rainiest city in the US (hence all the lush greenery).  It is generally hit first and hardest by storms, and experiences rain almost daily.  The Kona-side of this island is dry and sunny year-round, with occasional rains (hence the calm water, abundance of plumeria and bougainvillea, mangoes and citrus).  A guest mentioned to me today that there’s a storm-warning on for Mauna Kea and Kilauea, and that there may be flooding in Hilo.  This is certainly possible, but you wouldn’t know it looking outside here.  Elevation also has an impact on weather patterns.  Generally the higher you go the cooler and wetter it gets.  For example, I have a hula sister who lives on the same road as us, but a little higher up, and I just overheard her in class discussing her battles with mildew in the closets (a common issue on the island).    This isn’t an issue down here where we are, because it’s so much drier, even though we’re just a couple of miles away.  Sometimes I’ll be driving up our road to go to the store, or out Middle Keei Road or Painted Church Road to see a friend, and the road will be wet with rain, while it was bone-dry down at the Inn.

Although all the travel books mention the Big Island’s micro-climates, it can be very hard to fathom these sudden changes until you get here.  Here are a couple of other examples: the other day I drove up to Choice Mart, our local supermarket.  When I left the Inn it was sunny and hot down here, but by the time I got up our road a couple of miles, I’d entered a cool, rainy mist.  I shut off the AC and removed my sunglasses.  By the time I reached the highway the sky was leaden, and when I got to Choice Mart (less than one mile down the highway), big drops of rain were falling and ominous black clouds were amassing up mauka (up in the hills).  As I headed home I left the dark sky and mist and once I was home it was sunny and hot just as I’d left it.  The rain was visible way up on the hillside, but never made its way down.  We’ve needed rain over the last few weeks and I was a little sad the mist just hovered up mauka, taunting us.  One time we took our Miata for a spin around the island.  We had the AC going in the Kau Desert where the sun was blazing, the top pulled closed and the heater on in Volcano, the top open (because it was muggy) in Hilo and up the Hamakua Coast where the mist flew over us as we drove, then the top back up and the heater on in Waimea where a cold wind was blowing.  By the time we followed the highway down the hills in Waimea the AC was on again because the sun was burning brightly, and we left it on through Kona. 

This crazy-seeming weather actually generally reflects the variety of microclimates on the island, but of course things do shift and change.  It can be sunny in Hilo, it can pour in Kona.  There are two seasons in Hawaii: the wet season (late spring-early fall) and the dry season (late fall-early spring).  For us, this generally means a nice shower in the late afternoon/evening during the wet season, with bright sun the rest of the time.  But this year, we had a very dry summer and are already facing drought.  Generally there is a drought here in South Kona in the winter-months.  More storms also blow across the island during winter months, so although we may have a sunny, dry day, we may hear a tropical downpour for a few minutes after dark (like last night).

This brings us to another common question: when is the off-season in Hawaii?  The real answer to this is that there isn’t one.  Hawaii’s always nice.  The “off season” reflects the off-season on the mainland, regardless of the weather here: the summer months are generally slower because it is nice on the mainland, the winter months are usually jam-packed (December and January being the peak months) because so much of the mainland is experiencing bad winter weather.  June and September are notoriously slow since those are school-transition months for mainland families, and November is historically quite slow since most mainland travelers wait until Christmas or New Years for their long-holiday/vacation

The way we look at it is that there’s nice weather, and then there’s spectacular weather, with some anomalous days here and there (a wet day, a voggy-day, for example).  In other words, it’s pretty perfect most days.  We don’t have much variation in temperature, rainfall, or length of day down here in our little ocean micro-climate.  A tropical rain may blow in from the ocean one night, an ominous mist may hover up mauka, a rain shower may happen four miles away, you just never know.  So that’s why we can’t answer the “what’s the weather like” question, because it depends completely on where you are.  It’s said on the Big Island that if you don’t like the weather, just drive for an hour and you’ll be somewhere completely different, and it’s true!


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