Visitors to Hawaii this weekend aren’t getting the sunny winter getaway they were likely expecting, as a deluge of heavy rain and even snow continues to sweep across the state.
A cold-weather storm system, known as a “Kona low”, funneled tropical moisture over the islands, triggering downpours from Thursday and Friday through the rest of the weekend.
As of this afternoon, weather alerts remained in effect for every inch of the Big Island, portending potential hazards ranging from flash flooding and high surf to freezing rain and heavy snowfall at higher elevations.
In the mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, temperatures hover at or below freezing, while gusty winds blow drifting snow that reduces significantly visibility blowing and icy roads have made travel impossible during the most intense periods of precipitation. By the weekend’s end, the summits could have accumulated more than two feet of snow.
“Kona lows are most common during the late fall, winter and spring and are associated with a southward plunge of cold air over the central Pacific Ocean,” explained AccuWeather Meteorologist Maggie Samuhel.
“When a Kona low sets up to the west and northwest of Hawaii, it disrupts the normal trade wind patterns. A more southerly wind flow pulls deep tropical moisture northward across the island chain,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
In the native Hawaiian tongue, the word “Kona” refers to the western or southwestern side of an island. During a Kona low, the wind pattern results in the heaviest precipitation falling on the leeward side of the islands, which normally don’t receive a lot of rain.
An upper low southwest of the main Hawaiian Islands continues to pull a large band of deep tropical moisture northward within converging east to southeast surface flow. This moisture band will keep widespread rainfall in the forecast, heavy at times, with thunderstorms possible. pic.twitter.com/qwjDVknTCV
— NWSHonolulu (@NWSHonolulu) February 18, 2023
Pydynowski noted that there’s an increased risk of landslides, flash flooding and road closures since areas that don’t typically receive such intense precipitation in a short timespan are suddenly being inundated with water. Experts advise that only the most experienced surfers attempt to enter the waters along the islands’ east-facing shores, where wave heights could reach seven to 11 feet.
The heaviest precipitation fell across the Aloha State in the first half of the weekend and, by Monday, the current Kona low should be tracking away from the islands. But, the respite from intense weather may be a brief one, as another Kona low is set to arrive mid-week, according to AccuWeather meteorologists. Between the two of them, these storm systems are expected to deliver feet of snow and a month’s worth of rain across the islands.
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