Snow in the winter... but not where you might expect it.

  • Satellite image showing the Big Island, Hawaii in December 2016. The two oval white areas are snow on the peaks of the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Credit: NASA

    A closer look at snow on Mauna Kea in December 2016, the volcano which is home to some of the world's best astronomical observatories. Credit: NASA

    Satellite image of the storm which brought record-breaking snowfall to Chicago in February 2011. This year has been devoid of such storms. Credit: NASA

  • Snow in the winter... but not where you might expect it.
    04.03.2017 16:28

    You’d expect some parts of the USA to see more snow than others, but you might not expect there to have been more snow in Hawaii than in Chicago.

    The Hawaiian Islands lie in the tropical Pacific Ocean and might not be your first choice for wintry weather but snow is actually more common here than a lot of people think. In fact, Hawaii has quite a varied climate ranging from ‘tropical’ to ‘polar’. The coldest temperatures are, unsurprisingly, at high altitude around the summits of the two large volcanoes which make up the Big Island of Hawaii. These volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, are over 4,000m tall and temperatures can be low enough for snow to fall. And that is what happened this week, when around 20cm of snow fell. The main road leading to the observatories has been limited to four-wheel drive vehicles only.

    As mentioned earlier, this isn’t that unusual. The Mauna Kea Weather Center provides forecasts for astronomers using the telescopes on Hawaii. They are currently forecasting an increased risk of flurries in the first half of the coming week.

    Meanwhile, the US National Weather Service announced this week that this is the first time in 146 years that no recordable snow has fallen in Chicago in January or February. Historical records suggest that the average snowfall for Chicago in January and February should be nearly 50cm (20 inches). To put that in context, it should be noted that snowfall can be very variable. For example, in January 1928 there was only 0.5 cm of snow, whilst in January 2014 there was over 80cm. February has had some notable snowfall too, with one notable storm in February 2011 dropping around half a metre of snow on the city. 

    Either way, it is remarkable that Hawaii has had more snow this week than Chicago has had this year.  

    By: George Goodfellow