Chapter 33 – Climate And Enviroment
How hot will it get in Maui? Does it ever get cold there? The climate, flora and fauna of your new home will impact your life in a number of ways, so read on to learn more about them.
Weather on the island of Maui
One of the biggest draws in Maui – and in Hawaii in general – is its yearlong mild climate. There’s very good reason the region is a major tourist getaway. With temperatures at any time of year averaging around 80 degrees, you can’t go wrong, whether your destination is the beach or the office.
But despite the almost constant vacation-like conditions, there are some important factors to consider regarding weather on Maui, where a variety of microclimates mean differing conditions throughout the island. Locals know that due to the island’s diverse geography, climate can vary sharply depending on location, and being well-versed in the island’s regions and their associated weather patterns can mean the difference between a dry, warm day, and a grey and rainy one.
That’s because weather can vary, even on the same day, depending on where you are thanks to Maui’s varied topography. You’ll first want to familiarize yourself with two important terms: leeward and windward. The leeward side – comprising the west and south regions of the island – tends to be hotter and drier, while the windward side – east and north of the island – tends to cooler and wetter, thanks to trade winds that blow in moist ocean air, and mountainous volcanic regions that cause that air to condense, cool and fall to the ground as rain.
On Maui, most of the resorts are located on the leeward side of the island, for the frequent sunny days and less cloud cover. That means most vacationers will be staying in West and South Maui. The Central, Upcountry and East Maui regions, on the other hand, are marked by a lush, rainforest-like feel.
No matter the location, there are frequent rain showers on Maui, contributing to the vibrant, colorful foliage and a wide range of wildlife. They are often light and very quick, however, especially on the dry side of the island. Heavier showers tend to occur on the windward side, although it rarely rains for more than three days straight.
Despite the lack in temperature shifts, there are “seasons” on Maui. The dry season corresponds to summer in the rest of the country, from April to October, with temperatures a bit above the yearly average, and the rainy season to winter, from November to March, with temperatures a bit lower than the average. “Winter” on Maui is the biggest tourist season as visitors leave the ice and snow of their hometowns, escaping to Hawaii’s much milder version of the season. With temperatures in the 70s and 80s, winter on Maui is still considered paradise.
What’s more, while the rainy season may bring daily afternoon thunderstorms on any part of the island, they rarely last more than a few minutes and often result in stunning rainbows, once again proving that Hawaiian weather is truly one of the region’s greatest assets.
Actual rainfall amounts vary steeply according to region. While the tropical region of Hana, located on Maui’s windward side, generally experiences over eight inches of rain in January, Kaanapali, located on the island’s drier leeward side, receives only half that amount in the same month.
Maui’s mountainous regions do experience extremely low temperatures and even see some snowfall. On top of Haleakalā, the huge volcano on the east of the island peaking of 10,023 feet, temperatures fall quickly as you climb upwards, falling below freezing at the highest elevation, a far cry from the tropical climate that lies below.
Average monthly temperature and precipitation on Maui
There’s a joke that Hawaii is the perfect spot for retired meteorologists. While the microclimates from one location to the next make the Maui a fascinating study in diverse weather patterns, those patterns are remarkably consistent.
Hurricane season is technically from June to November, although hurricanes are rare. The last hurricane to hit Hawaii was Hurricane Iniki, which struck the region in 1992. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Hawaii in recorded history, most notably damaging the island of Kauai, which it hit at peak intensity, destroying thousands of homes and leaving a majority of the island without power.
Rare as they may be, Hawaii has prepared for the future possibility of large storms. The State, along with FEMA, signed the Hawaii Catastrophic Hurricane Response Operations Plan in 2009, a plan that predicts outcomes should a Category 4 hurricane strike the region, including scheduled drills and an outlined plan for federal assistance in such an occurrence.
Pacific Coast Tsunamis are also a concern in Maui, but again, they are extremely rare. Japan’s 2011 earthquake and associated tsunami had very little effect on Hawaii as a whole, and incidences of similar earthquakes and tsunamis throughout history have been few and far between.
- Detailed forecasts on each of Maui’s regions with an interactive map is available at Hawaii Weather Today, http://www.hawaiiweathertoday.com/maui.php
- Online weather reports are issued at Weather Underground, including wind and humidity reports and predicted sunrise and sunset http://www.wunderground.com/US/HI/Maui.html
- Local TV news station KHON provides reports for Maui, and Hawaii in general, http://www.khon2.com/weather, as well as news hub Hawaii News Now, representing affiliated news stations KHNL and KGMB http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/category/202017/weather
For many residents and visitors, surfing is one of Maui’s biggest draws, and the sport is hugely impacted by the weather on a day-to-day basis. The prevalence of surfing in Maui means there are a number of reliable sources citing weather conditions that specifically relate to surfing. Check the global surf report website Surfline for reports for each of Maui’s regions, with predicted winds, tides and surf height, http://www.surfline.com/surf-report/maui_53050/map/.
Website OMaui also provides a daily, detailed surf report, an extended swell forecast and daily surf photos, http://omaui.com.
Severe Weather Alerts
In addition to the news and weather outlets listed above, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides a constantly updated list of weather watches, warnings and advisories for Hawaii, http://alerts.weather.gov/cap/hi.php?x=1.
What should I know about volcanoes?
Hawaii’s volcanoes provide some of its wondrous natural beauty. The mountainous volcanic regions mark some of the state’s most visited parks, home to hiking trails, waterfalls and breathtaking vistas.
Of course, the possibility of hot lava and ash eruptions make volcanoes as intimidating as they are beautiful. While eruptions are a possibility among the active volcanoes in Hawaii, they aren’t likely to affect you, or to be something you have to worry about very often. And should an eruption that would affect the population become even a remote possibility, rest assured, the sites are well monitored, and warnings to locals and visitors very well publicized.
East Maui’s Haleakala, a volcano reaching a peak of over 10,000 feet, is one of the island’s most remarkable geographic structures, having formed more than 75 percent of the island over the years. It’s eruptive history, indicated by its hardened lava formations, points to at least ten eruptions in the last 1,000 years. Although its last eruption was roughly 500 years ago, a seeming eternity to us humans, geologists point out that volcanoes are considered active if they’ve erupted at all since around the last ice age, 10,000 to 15,000 years ago.
Therefore the volcano is constantly monitored. Geologists use a number of methods to do so, including global system technology, which measures any growth of the site, something that can indicate upcoming activity. Scientists also look out for air vents emitting sulfur at the volcano.
On the nearby island of Hawaii you’ll find volcanoes that have erupted in the much more recent past. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, one of the state’s most visited attractions. The former last erupted in 1984, producing a channelized flow of lava and ending three weeks later without putting nearby homes or other civilization in danger. The latter has been erupting continuously since 1983, with lava flows covering over 48 square miles to date, destroying 214 structures and burying nearly nine miles of highway.
Visit the United States Geological Survey for detailed descriptions and histories of all of Hawaii’s volcanoes, including Haleakala: http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/volcanoes/
Plants and Animals
What kinds of plants and animals live in Maui?
Because of Maui’s lush and consistent natural climate, the island is home to a vibrant and thriving variety of plant and animal life. Just to name a few, plant species include Coconut Palm trees, the Koa trees prized for their durable wood and plentiful Ti Leaf plants with colorful red, purple, pink or even striped leaves. Fruit trees abound in Maui, as well, including banana plants, macadamia nut trees, mango trees and papaya trees.
The island is also home to a stunning number of diverse and colorful flowers thanks, again, to the diverse but largely warm climate. Some of these, such as the lilies and roses that abound on Maui, are more common varieties. But you’ll find plenty of exotic tropical flowers, as well, including the striking Bird of Paradise plants, the Protea flowering trees that originally hail from South Africa and the lovely hibiscus plants that many associate with Hawaii due to their prevalence there.
For the very same reasons plant life does so well in Maui, and in Hawaii in general, there is an incredibly varied list of both land and sea animals that make their home in this tropical paradise. Among the most interesting species you may discover are wild boar, the spotted Axis Deer and the hoary bat, which is reported to be the only native mammal in the region. The mongoose, originally introduced in the 1800s to quell the rat problem there, is also common in Maui, so abundant that many consider them a nuisance.
Sea life in Maui includes a number of beautiful species visible during snorkeling, diving or boat trips, and includes the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, Manta Ray, Butterfly Fish and many varieties of sea cucumbers and sea stars.
Whale watching is one of the number one attractions in Maui, thanks in large part to the Humpback Whales that travel to the island from Alaskan feeding waters each winter, with peak months being February and March. Hawaiian Monk Seals, and Spinner Dolphins are also favorites among marine life in the region.
There are a number of excellent resources for learning more about the plant and animal life on Maui, some of which are listed below.
- The Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge on Maui is an excellent spot for viewing some of the region’s native plants and animals, and the park’s website provides information about the species you might see, http://www.fws.gov/refuge/kealia_pond/
- The non-profit Hawaii Wildlife Center provides detailed information on some of the native species most in need of conservation efforts in Maui and other regions, http://www.hawaiiwildlifecenter.org/native-species.htm
- Visit the Hawaii Audubon Society site for an excellent resource on birding in Maui, with a downloadable Maui Birding Guide, http://www.hawaiiaudubon.org/#!maui-birding/cwp0
- The Butterfly Society of Hawaii provides in depth information about the 17 species of butterfly that live on the Hawaiian islands, http://butterflysocietyofhawaii.org/butterflies.html
Gardening in Maui
The sunshine and frequent enough rainfall in Maui make it an excellent spot for home gardens, as well as for large-scale agriculture. In an effort to promote local farming efforts, the Maui County Farm Bureau has launched the “Grown on Maui” campaign to expand the market share of local farmers, keeping them in business while preserving the island’s agricultural heritage. Sugarcane and pineapple are two of the major crops grown on Maui, as well as bananas, coffee and a variety of other fruits and vegetables.
Home gardening in Maui can be as time consuming as you’d like, with a huge variety of hearty plants that easily thrive in the temperate region without much care, as well as the possibility to plant exotic plants that need a bit more nurturing. Home vegetable and fruit gardens are plentiful on the island, as well. Maui is home to a number of nurseries and public gardens that may serve as excellent resources when deciding what to plant, and when.
To learn more about gardening, try visiting these resources:
- The University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Office, which offers information about native species, soil conditions and pest control, http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/site/extprograms.aspx
- Also part of the Cooperative Extension, the Maui County Master Gardener Program, according to its website, serves to provide the public with information regarding sustainable management practices for home gardens, urban environments and more, http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/uhmg/Maui/
- The Maui County Farm Bureau, which provides information on educational opportunities, local foods and restaurant guides and details about the Maui County Agricultural Festival, held yearly on the first Saturday in April, http://www.mauicountyfarmbureau.org/maui-county-agricultural-festival-2/
- The State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, with a home page that includes a database of agricultural and food products grown locally, links and resources for gardening in Hawaii and a history of agriculture in the state, http://hdoa.hawaii.gov/agricultural-resources/
To see firsthand what type of shrubs and plants grow well locally, visit one of the area’s public gardens:
- The National Tropical Botanical Garden, with a focus on plants of the Pacific region, including native Hawaiian species, as well as plants from Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, http://ntbg.org/gardens/kahanu.php
- The Kula Botanical Garden, providing tours of their eight acres of gardens, with hundreds of varieties of plants, including a large collection of native Hawaiian plants, http://www.kulabotanicalgarden.com/index.html
- Maui Nui Botanical Gardens allows the public to explore its unique collection of plants, as it strives to protect the region’s native species and cultural traditions, http://www.mnbg.org/home.html
- The Garden of Eden Arboretum is home to over 500 indigenous and exotic plants, trees and flowers on its expansive 26 acres, located along the famed Hana Highway, http://www.mauigardenofeden.com
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