Snow in Hawai’i

Hoʻoilo refers to the rainy season. During the winter months of October to April, snowfall is historically frequent on the highest elevations of Hawaiʻi Island: Maunakea (13,803 feet) and Mauna Loa (13,679 feet). Snow occasionally appears on the mountains of Hualālai (8,271 feet) and Haleakalā on Maui (10,023 feet).

Hawaiians understand snow as one of the sacred elements. Hawaiians call the largest mountain in the islands, Mauna a Wākea (Kea) after Wākea, an ancestor of all Hawaiians. Poli‘ahu is known as goddess of the snow, the daughter of Wākea and Papa, and the sister of Pele, goddess of volcanoes and fire.

The James Cook expedition of 1778 recorded the sight of snow on Maunakea. Later explorers and Christian missionaries noted snow, occasionally throughout the year. Snowfall still varies – rare at times, but abundant on other occasions. The National Weather Service announces severe wind gusts (up to 120 mph) and issues blizzard warnings for the alpine desert heights.

These photographs represent just some of the winter images preserved by the Lyman Museum. To see even more, the Archives is open for research by appointment. Learn more at https://lymanmuseum.org/archives/research-collection/.

Maunakea, ca. 1900 (Cyanotype print)
Horses and rider in snow on Maunakea, 1904
A car on the Kohala mountain road with snowcapped Maunakea, and Mauna Loa and Hualālai in the background, ca. 1925 (Photo by Kohala Photo Studio)
Aerial image of Maunakea summit cones, 1925 (Photo by Roscoe Wriston)
Moku Ola (or Coconut Island) with a dock for rowboats and Maunakea, 1929
Wailoa River with fields, buildings, and snow topped Maunakea, ca. 1930
Color postcard of downtown Hilo with Maunakea, 1945
Aerial view of snow-capped summit cones of Maunakea, ca. 1948 (Photo by Edsel Partee Lusby)
Rainbow Falls with Maunakea, ca. 1950
View of snow-covered Maunakea with Hilo and the Mo‘oheau Park bandstand in the foreground, 1962 (Photo by John Howard Pierce)

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