hawaii's weather

One of the biggest worries people have when planning their trip to the tropics is Hawaii weather. Will it rain? Is it going to be too hot? What about hurricanes?

Let’s deal with the last one first. There have been only three recorded hurricanes in Hawaii in the past 200 years. One in the 1950s, one in the ’80s and ‘Iniki on Sept. 11, 1992, clobbering Kauai. None have hit Oahu, so you should probably spend your precious worry energy elsewhere.

This page gives you a general overview of what to expect weather-wise on each island. With knowledge of Hawaii’s weather, you can make your trip to paradise unforgettable. 

Hawaii Weather

Hawaii is in the tropics and tropical weather is pretty much the same throughout the islands, right?

Uh, hate to burst your bubble but the weather is different on every island and varies considerably in different parts of each island. That’s because weather is hugely influenced by the size, shape and lay of the land. Weather is even effected by the age of the islands because of what time and erosion do to the shapes of the former volcanoes, and Hawaiian islands get younger as you get farther south and east. Since the wind (and any moisture it’s carrying) usually comes from the northeast, and since mountains cause air to rise, cool, condense and drop their rain, rainfall is much more pronounced on the northeast side of each island and usually absent on the southwest sides. But the shape of the mountains concentrates the rains in certain areas and shields other areas.

I know all this sounds daunting, but it’s easy to get a handle on this if you look at each island individually, because Hawaiian islands come in different shapes and sizes.

There are some things that are universal throughout the state, however. As far as temperatures are concerned, Hawaii is incredibly temperate. The average high during January is 79 °F, whereas our hottest time, late August/early September, has an average high of 85 °F. With humidity percentages usually in the 60s and low 70s and trade winds usually keeping things cool, Hawaii is usually pleasant. The exception is the extreme west sides, which are about 3 degrees hotter. (That might not sound like much, but you sure do notice it.) Nighttime temperatures usually drop 10–13 degrees, depending on your altitude.

Hawaii surface water temperatures range from a low of 74 °F in February to a high of 81 °F in October, with Maui and Big Island slightly warmer than Kauai and Oahu. Most people find this to be an ideal water temperature range.

Check out the weather description below for the island you plan to visit.

Maui Weather

Hawaii’s weather on Maui is radically different around the island. Many times we’ve been at the airport in Kahului and seen people coming off the plane looking gloomy and worried. “It’s so windy and rainy here,” they often say. Sometimes we wish the county would erect a sign at the airport saying, “No worry, da weatha stay mo betta in Kihei and Lahaina.” In the leeward area of South Maui, Kihei and Wailea will be warmer and drier. Winds that have just been squished between the two mountains will travel south along the Kihei coast, veering slightly offshore, so winds will be lighter the further you go down the Kihei coast until you get to La Pérouse Bay. There the fierce wind from the bottom of the island meets calm air, creating a distinct wind line over the span of about 100 feet.

For complete info on Maui’s different weather regions, visit our Maui weather page.


Top 3 Places You Can’t Miss on Maui

Haleakala National Park

haleakalanationalpark

Camping is allowed at several places in the park, including the coveted cabins at the bottom of the crater. See Camping for more. The campground at Hosmer Grove as you entered the park has a 25-minute nature loop, which is one of the better trails to catch a glimpse of rare native Hawaiian birds, thanks to its proximity to a restored native forest on Haleakala Ranch lands. This campground is also a good place to see moonbows (rainbows caused by the refraction and reflection of moonlight) when the full moon’s rising in the east and it’s raining toward the west.

As you’ve ascended the mountain, note how much the vegetation has changed. You’re not in Hawai‘i anymore; you’re in Alaska. Cold, windy and arid conditions favor plants with needles and very small leaves. One plant that looks like a whisk broom has powder-filled spore casings. Ancient Hawaiians used to come up here and gather the powder to rub into their da kines to prevent chafing on long walks.

Hana Highway

hanahighway

The road to Hana is without question the most famous and desired drive in all Hawai‘i, the crown jewel of driving. It’s been compared to driving through the garden of Eden: a slow, winding road through a lush paradise that you always knew existed—somewhere.

If you’re in a hurry to get to Hana, you’re missing the point. Unless you’re staying the night in Hana, you probably won’t spend much time there. You’re heading somewhere else. (Those who spend the night in Hana will have more time to sample its delights.) At the risk of sounding like a Chinese fortune cookie, fulfillment lies in the journey, not the destination. 

Molokini

molokini

To residents and visitors in the know, the name Molokini conjures up images of crystal clear water and bright, vivid coral. 

If nature hadn’t made this offshore island, the Hawai‘i Visitors Bureau would have done it. This aquatic wonder was created when an undersea vent, held under pressure by the ocean’s weight, busted loose with lava and ash, building up what is called a tuff cone. The northern half has been eroded away by wave action, creating a semi-circular reef far enough offshore to be clear of runoff or sand. So underwater visibility is nearly always 100 feet, sometimes 180.

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Oahu Weather

Rain on Oahu works like this: The prevailing winds (called trade winds) come from the northeast, bringing their moisture with them. As the air hits the Ko‘olau mountains, it rises, cools and condenses into clouds and rain. So the mountains and shoreline facing the northeast, called the windward side, get the lion’s share of the rain. Often by mid-morning, the rising, cooling air causes clouds to form in the mountains, giving them an exotic, mystical look.

For complete info on how to deal with rain and wind on your vacation, visit our Oahu weather page.

Top 3 Places You Can’t Miss in Oahu

Honolulu

honolulu

Honolulu is overrepresented when it comes to attractions to visit. It’s got so many, in fact, that we have dedicated Adventures & Attractions sections you should check out. Look at places like ‘Iolani Palace, Punchbowl Cemetery, Chinatown, Bishop Museum, Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Garden Tours.

Driving around Honolulu and Waikiki can be maddening, and no matter how much effort we put into our descriptions, they can’t cover up the fact that our road system was created by… well, morons. (Sorry, but it’s true.) Having a navigator who’s good at reading maps on the fly can help, but you should count on getting lost, irritated and driving in the vicinity of something you’re trying to get to only to curse in rage that you can’t find it or maneuver to it. Hey… it’s O‘ahu.

Kailua

kailuatown

Kailua is your classic beach town and, in our minds, one of the nicest places to stay if you’re not going to make your base in Waikiki—though it is no longer the sleepy town it was a decade or so ago. Though only 30 minutes from Honolulu via the Pali Highway, it’s a world away from big city life. There are no resorts here, but vacation rentals and B&Bs are plentiful. Two of the finest beaches on the island bless this community, the kayaking in Kailua Bay to offshore islands is fantastic, and there are some excellent restaurants. If you’re looking for a dreamy beach scene backed by offshore islands, Lanikai Beach is a must. 

Haleiwa

haleiwa

Hale‘iwa, the biggest town on the North Shore, is a quaint place that revolves around surfing in the winter. (Summers are pretty mellow.) There aren’t any resorts up here, but B&Bs are easy to find online. Several good restaurants and some interesting shopping are available. If you’re looking for a treat, consider the shave ice at San Lorenzo’s or Matsumoto’s on Kamehameha Highway. (The latter often has unjustifiably long lines, so don’t hesitate to go to San Lorenzo’s.) Hale‘iwa Harbor is where you depart for your Swim With Sharks adventure.

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Kauai Weather

I’ve heard it always rains on Kaua‘i. We heard this many times before we came here for the first time. The reality of Hawaii’s weather on Kauai weather is that it has more rainfall than the other islands. In fact, one of the rainiest spots on earth is smack dab in the middle of the island. Mount Wai‘ale‘ale is an undisputed year-round rain magnet, receiving around 400 inches per year, which is a staggering 33 feet annually. All that said, the odds are overwhelming that rain will not ruin your Kaua‘i vacation. The coast gets far less rain than the waterlogged central interior, and throughout Kaua‘i the lion’s share of rain falls at night. When it does rain during the day, it is usually quite short-lived, often lasting a matter of a few minutes.

For more info on Kauai rainfall, check out our Kauai weather page.

Top 3 Places You Can’t Miss in Kauai

Na Pali Coast 

napalicoast

If you really want adventure, consider a kayak trip down the Na Pali Coast. June through August are normally the only months where ocean conditions permit kayak transit. Kayakers put in at Ke‘e Beach on the north shore, exiting at Polihale Beach on the west shore, a total of 16 miles. Along the way you’ll encounter incomparable beauty, innumerable waterfalls and sea caves, pristine aquamarine seas, turtles, flying fish and possibly dolphins. If you’re doing this as a maverick trip, at night you can camp on beautiful beaches, sleeping to the sound of the surf. The experience will stay with you for a lifetime.

Waimea Canyon State Park

waimeacanyon

The canyon lookout is an awesome vista. At one time three rivers, fed from the island’s center by the Alaka‘i Swamp on Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale, all ran down the gently sloping shield volcano, emptying into the ocean at separate points like the spokes of a wheel. That’s what created the now-dry valleys you see on your way out to Polihale. When a fault caused the collapse of part of the volcano’s flank, the three rivers were forced to combine as they ran down into the fault. This new, opportunistic river carved a place for itself in the splintered and fractured lava flows. The results are extraordinary.

Hanalei Bay

hanaleibay

Four beaches are part of Hanalei Bay: Waikoko, Wai‘oli, Hanalei Pavilion and Black Pot. With its single long crescent of sand, the bay is beautiful to look at but not great to swim in. Pounding shore break, backwash and rip currents, especially during the winter months, make Hanalei Bay less than ideal as a swimming beach. But that doesn’t make it any less pretty. Large surfing waves make Hanalei Bay very popular with surfers, who come from other islands to experience the extremely long-lasting waves.

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Big Island Weather

Hawaii’s weather on the Big Island is more diverse than any island or another comparably sized chunk of land in the world. You name it, we got it. According to the Köppen Climate Classification System (which is probably your favorite system, too, right?), the Big Island has 10 of the 15 types of climatic zones in the world. (Not climactic zones, which we accidentally printed in a previous guidebook. Boy, people were really anxious to find one of those!) Only Cold Continental Climate categories are absent. Here we’ve got tropical, monsoonal, desert and even periglacial climates, among others. So no matter what kind of weather you like, we are sure to have it here. As you ascend the slopes of the volcanoes, you lose about 3 °F for every thousand feet.

Visit our page dedicated to Big Island weather for a complete breakdown of all the regions.

Top 3 Places You Can’t Miss on the Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

hawaiivolcanoesnationalpark

Much of the best hiking on the island is found in and around Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. In Volcano Sights we’ve described lots of strolls of 30 minutes or less. They include Bird Park (a nice 30-minute walk through the forest), Devastation Trail (see how the volcano wiped out part of a forest with flying, frothed lava and how it is coming back), Pu‘u Loa Petroglyph Trail (less than 2 miles round trip, it heads to a massive field of ancient rock carvings—this one takes a bit more than 30 minutes), and a few others. We’ve also described a trek to the edge of the smoldering Mauna Ulu Crater.

Mauna Kea

maunakea

If someone asked you to climb from the base of Mauna Kea to the summit (which is more than 13,000 feet above sea level), you’d have to climb more than 30,000 feet. (The base of Mauna Kea just happens to be 17,000 feet below sea level.) Those wimps who climb from the base of Mt. Everest to the summit only have to climb a mere 12,000 feet. (Its base just happens to start at 17,000 feet above sea level.) Everest, too, is located in a warm latitude, 28 °F, as far south as sweltering Orlando, Florida. But people still freeze to death in the summer on Everest because the summit’s high altitude (29,029 feet) offsets the warm latitude.

Kilauea Volcano

kilauea volcano

If you had to name the one thing the Big Island is most famous for, it would undoubtedly be Kilauea Volcano. In all the world there isn’t a more active volcano, and none is as user-friendly as Kilauea. People often refer to it as the drive-in volcano.

Kilauea is an enigma—you can’t really see the mountain from anywhere on the island, or even recognize it when you are standing on it. It seems more like a wound on the flanks of Mauna Loa. In the past, everyone thought that it was part of Mauna Loa, but today we know that it is separate and distinct, with its own separate (though possibly interrelated) magma chamber. One part of Kilauea, the actual Pu‘u ‘O‘o vent itself, is teasingly inaccessible.

Hawaii Weather in our App

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More things to reveal in the app:

  • Reviews on Hawaii Resorts with their locations
  • Reviews on every single beach on the islands
  • Interactive maps of Kauai, Maui, Oahu and the Big Island
  • Details to help plan your visit to Hawaii’s best sights, tours, activities and more
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