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Haleakala summit dusted with snow

Winter weather brings cold rain, winds to isle

A light dusting of snow coats the summit of Haleakala at about 9 a.m. Sunday. The summit is under a winter weather advisory through 6 a.m. today, with freezing rain expected. Patches of ice mixed with areas of snow, along with low visibility, could make roadways slippery and dangerous to travel. VINCENT LORUSSO photo

Stormy weather brought a “dusting of snow and some heavy icing” to the summit of Haleakala National Park early Sunday morning, according to Chief Ranger Ari Wong.

Conditions were icy and cold at the summit, where there was some residual snow but mainly ice by around 10 a.m., Wong said. The park was still open to the Visitors Center at the 9,740-foot elevation level. Power and other services had not been impacted.

“The only thing closed is just the last quarter-mile of road to the summit due to ice on the road,” Wong said shortly after 1 p.m. “But everybody can access almost the entire park.”

Wong said the park didn’t have a measurement for the snowfall, as it had been so light and the park doesn’t have a snow gauge. Snowfall in Haleakala is such a rare occurrence anyway that a gauge is “just not useful for us,” Wong said. While consecutive years of snow are also a rarity, Haleakala has had light to heavy snowfall events the past three years, including most recently on Feb. 7 to 8.

Chevy Chevalier, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said that the recent cold weather was brought on by an upper level low, which he described as “just a quirk in the atmosphere that causes instability.” Maui has been buffeted by strong winds and heavy rains islandwide; over a 24-hour period ending 5 p.m. Sunday, the Puu Kukui gauge in the West Maui Mountains recorded 2.68 inches, while the West Wailuaiki gauge in East Maui reported 2.35 inches.

Chevalier said it’s tough to predict or measure snowfall atop Haleakala, because temperatures can hover around freezing, and a change in a degree or two can impact whether the summit gets ice, snow, sleet or freezing rain.

As of Sunday afternoon, a winter weather advisory was in effect for the summit through 6 a.m. today. Freezing rain is expected, and patches of ice mixed with areas of snow could make roadways dangerously slippery to travel, in addition to reduced visibility.

Predictions for this morning included party sunny skies with scattered rain and snow showers, with highs around 49 degrees at the Visitors Center and 46 at the summit and east winds of 10 to 15 mph. The chance of precipitation is 50 percent.

Tonight is expected to be partly cloudy with isolated rain showers and lows of 38 at the Visitors Center and 36 at the summit. East winds of 10 mph are predicted, with a 20 percent chance of precipitation.

All Maui County islands are also under a wind advisory through 6 a.m. Northeast winds of 20 to 35 mph with localized gusts over 45 mph are expected. Winds this strong are capable of bringing down tree branches and causing power outages. Drivers should travel with caution.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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