National Astronomical Observatory of Japan

Yes, It Snows on Mauna Kea

| Topics

Despite tourists' dreams of perpetual sunny skies on a tropical island, the reality of weather patterns on the Island of Hawai'i is complex and variable, particularly on the majestic mountain of Mauna Kea. The seasonal blanket of snow may have given rise to the name Mauna Kea, usually translated as "white mountain." During the winter season, temperatures range from 25-40 degrees Fahrenheit and snow may accumulate several feet high on the summit, affecting public access as well as operations of the telescopes located in the area. The recent winter storm on Mauna Kea illustrates the necessity for awareness of changing conditions on the mountain and safe responses to them.

Photo 1: Mauna Kea covered with snow on its summit and slopes, viewed from a spot near Hilo. Photo by Hideaki Fujiwara.
Photo 2: Snow-capped Mauna Kea on February 20th, the day before a severe winter storm impacted the mountain. Access was open to all. From left to right, the telescopes pictured are: Subaru Telescope, the Keck I and Keck II telescopes, and the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). Photo by Hideaki Fujiwara.
Photo 3: An aerial view of the summit area after the winter storm on February