Diversity of Climate Zones on Hawai’i

The island of Hawai’i is a place of tremendous climate diversity. From tropical to sub-arctic, the Big Island has it all.

Hawai’i has eleven of the thirteen climatic zones defined in the Koppen Climate Classification System.  Developed by Wladimir Koppen in 1884, this climate system is based on average values of temperature and precipitation as well as the distribution of native vegetation. Hawai’i only lacks the extremes of cold winters and summer heat waves.

The primary reason for this wide range of climates is topography.  Two huge volcanic mountains, Mauna Kea (13,796 feet) and Mauna Loa (13,679 feet), dominate the landscape of Hawai’i. Since air temperature decreases 3.6°F per one thousand feet, it can be in the 80’s at the beach and below freezing in the summit regions on any given day.  Mauna Kea, the White Mountain, even supports a seasonal snow-pack.

These mountains also create orographic rainfall and affect the overall distribution of precipitation on the island.  When warm, moist air is forced up along the windward slopes, it condenses into clouds that produce rain. This precipitation supports the island’s lush rainforests and cascading waterfalls. The leeward side of the mountains, where the air descends, is sunnier and more arid.

The vast assortment of climate zones on Hawai’i is remarkable for an island roughly the size of Connecticut.  In many ways, Hawai’i is an island of all seasons.

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About Melissa Fleming

Melissa Fleming is an environmental communicator and visual artist working at the intersection of art and science. She is passionate about exploring, learning, and sharing information about the natural world. She has presented her interdisciplinary work in a variety of mediums at venues and conferences around the world.