Hawaii is one of the most mesmerizing islands around the world. It’s a top tourist destination that is known for its serene beaches, volcanic landscapes, and amazing waterfalls. Whether you’re looking for budget-friendly activities or more adventurous ones, the beautiful island of Hawaii offers its visitors diverse experiences fit for all budgets and lifestyles.
Keep reading to learn more about Hawaii’s versatile weather – and find out when is the best time to plan your vacation to Hawaii.
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Does Hawaii Ever Get Cold?
If you plan to have your winter vacation in Hawaii, you’d be glad to know that the weather is pleasant – which is a perfect escape from your country’s freezing temperature, if you are from one.
Yes, the weather in Hawaii gets cold – but only at a comfortable temperature. The average temperature is between 25 to 27 degrees Celsius (77-79 Fahrenheit).
If you plan to visit in the winter months, we suggest packing a light sweater and a thick jacket and pants if you wish to visit the mountains and volcanoes, as they tend to be a lot colder and can reach negative degrees Celsius.
For the most part, however, you can still enjoy bikini weather and soak in the sun.
Which Side of the Island is Colder?
Both sides vary by only a few degrees, but nothing extreme. The only difference you may experience is the rain. Because of the island’s micro-climate, the island can have varying weather at the same time.
Even when it rains on the north side of the island, you can always go to the other side for some sunshine. Whether you go in the summer or winter, you can still enjoy a good swim, as the average water temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius.
Seasons and Weather
Although Hawaii is considered a tropical place, Hawaiian natives recognize two seasons: “Kau” for summer and “Hoolio” for winter.
Summer in Hawaii lasts from May-September, with a warm balmy temperature of 29.4 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit). The warmest months in summer are July, August, and September, reaching up to 30 degrees Celsius.
The winter months stretch from October-April, where the coldest months are usually December, January, and February and it can get as cold as 23 degrees Celsius (73 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day and 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit) at night. However, temperatures seldom drop below 23 degrees Celsius, so it’s always the ideal weather all year-round.
It tends to rain more than usual in winter, especially in March and April – so it’s advisable to pack light jackets and an umbrella. The north and east flanks have more greenery compared to the south and west sides, which is an indicator of rainfall. If you’re heading to the upper half of the volcanoes, it is a lot chillier with stronger winds.
The climate in each part of Hawaii differs, depending on altitude and surroundings. Each island has its own unique microclimate weather and characteristics.
In a nutshell, Hawaii has 11 climate zones that are influenced by several factors, including various elevations, frequent rains, pressure changes, volcanoes, and trade winds that produce windward and leeward regions. The islands on the north and east sides of Hawaii tend to get more rain than the south and west side, which usually has drier weather.
Hawaii has eight main islands: Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Each island is dominated by trade winds, so there’s an upwind and downwind side- and each island has varying weather that you can enjoy.
Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii has 11 climate zones. The west of the Big Island is sunnier with little rain. If you go to the east side of the Big Island, it tends to have more rain year-round.
When you visit the higher elevations, it becomes chillier, especially in the evenings. If you visit Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa summits, be prepared to wear a thick coat and warm jeans, as it’s a lot colder in these areas.
Known as the Valley Isle, Maui has generally low rainfall and more days of sunny weather. The south coast of Maui promises more sunshine than the east and west, which has frequent rains. However, you’ll discover fascinating rainforests and waterfalls in the east as a result of the rain.
Overall, most parts of Oahu are great places that guarantee Hawaiian sunshine, especially the southern and southwest coast. However, there are times when it is rainy on one side and sunny on the other.
The east and south coasts of Kauai have more sunny days and fewer rains. If you go to the north coast of Kauai, you’ll get to witness a combination of sunshine and light rains that make up the island’s waterfalls and rainbows – which is one of the reasons why this place is also called the Garden Isle.
Similar to most islands of Hawaii, it is rainy on the north and east sides, and a lot sunnier on the south and west sides.
The higher elevation areas or highlands of Lanai are cooler compared to the warm and sunny lower areas in Manele Bay. It can get as cold as 22 degrees Celsius in the highlands and as hot as 32 degrees in Manele Bay.
The weather in Niihau varies very little. Half of the year in Niihau can feel hot at about 30 degrees Celsius with low chances of rain. Between December and February, it rains three to four times a month.
Due to its leeward location, Kahoolawe is a dry island with low precipitation. However, it’s more likely to rain in mid-May. It usually rains an average of 1-2 times per month. Moreover, it can get as cold as 25 degrees Celsius in the winter season.
Frequent rainfalls contribute to the cold weather of Hawaii. You can experience rain throughout the year, but there’s less rainfall from April-October. Rain is much worse during the winter months, from November-March. Fortunately, it won’t disrupt your vacation plans since you can still experience warm sunny weather on the other side of the island.
The island with the most rain is Kauai, which is known as the wettest island in Hawaii and the world with an average of 486 inches of rain.
It’s good to know that rain typically comes in short bursts, usually for 30-60 minutes per day, so it won’t interrupt your plans for that day too much – but it’s always a good idea to bring a poncho with you.
Hawaiians also have a soft and misty type of rain called Kilihune – which is the perfect light rain to cool you off on a warm day.
The unpredictable yet beautiful weather of Hawaii is affected by trade winds, which occur due to the high-pressure winds blowing in the North Pacific. Trade winds are rotating air that flows from the warm regions near the equator towards the southern regions of Hawaii, bringing the constant cool and misty winds and breeze.
Because of the trade winds of the island, there’s always a cool breeze blowing in. When the trade winds stop, it will come out of the west or south sides of Hawaii – which brings on stormy and humid weather. This occurrence is normally called the leeward or south weather, also known as Kona weather in Hawaii.
When there are no trade winds, the Kona winds come in with volcanic fog from the Big Island, Oahu, and Maui – making it very humid at times.
70% of the winds in Hawaii are trade winds that are usually felt in the summer season, whereas the Kona winds are more prevalent in winter, primarily January-March. When trade winds reach up in the volcanoes, the air is lifted and creates clouds and rain.
Water Temperature and Waves
Coming to Hawaii won’t be complete without taking a dip in its crystal clear waters. The near-shore waters are always the perfect temperature for a swim, averaging from 23.3-26.7 degrees Celsius (74-77 degrees Fahrenheit).
Swimming in the winter season is always comfortable on all beaches. You can choose to swim on many north shore beaches and expect to experience big waves from the Pacific storms. Since the two sides of the islands aren’t the same, you can always go to the other side for calmer waves.
The waves in winter are bigger, which makes it the perfect spot for surfers and crowds who enjoy watching surfing competitions. For the best waves, the north shore of Oahu is known for big waves and attracts international surfers worldwide.
Mountain and Volcanoe Temperatures
As previously mentioned, going up the mountains is always cold. Temperatures in high elevations can drop as low as -15 degrees Celsius – so it’s crucial to wear proper winter attire to beat the cold. It’s also worth mentioning that you have less protection from UV rays at higher elevations, so it’s highly advisable to wear sunblock, sunglasses, and hats.
Going to Hawaii in the winter will grant you access to many activities and festivals. For instance, traditional American holidays are very popular in winter including Christmas, New year’s eve, and Thanksgiving.
If you go to Honolulu, experience the annual Honolulu City Lights Festival in December which boasts its 50-ft high Christmas tree. For something historical and educational, head over to the Arizona Memorial and Iolani Palace to learn about Hawaii’s history and culture.
If you’re a pineapple lover, visit the Dole Plantation in Oahu and have fun in its huge garden mazes while eating some fresh pineapples.
Winter is the prime time for whale watching. Head out to the sea during the day and you catch a glimpse of humpback whales mating – and if you’re lucky, you can see them giving birth and nursing their young. For the best views, go whale watching in the Sanctuary Education Center in Maui, Halona Blowhole in Oahu, and Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge in Kauai.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
Visiting Hawaii in any season offers unique experiences. Although many people think winter is extremely cold, in Hawaii it’s not. If you’re coming from countries where it reaches negative degrees Celsius, you’d be glad to know that Hawaii can still be hot for you.
Moreover, it is also the best time to experience huge waves that are 20-feet and higher. If you come to Hawaii for surfing spots, we suggest going to Oahu’s North Shore for giant waves.
If you’re lucky, you’ll find four to six humpback whales that migrate every winter to Hawaii for mating season. Visit Hawaii from January-March, as these are the peak months to watch whales. You can find humpback whales in the Big Island, Maui, and Lanai.
Lastly, watch out for peak season prices as they can get more expensive in the winter season. It’s the time of the year where people go on vacation often, so expect the island to be crowded. Don’t forget to book a flight, hotel, and activity tour in advance to have a slot and get the best prices.