The Weather & Climate Patterns in Hawaii
While it's always going to be close to impossible to predict the weather months or even weeks ahead of your vacation, it’s helpful to look at Hawaiian weather trends to get an idea of what to expect before you travel to Hawaii.
In this article we'll go over some of the most common visitor concerns about Hawaii's weather, so you'll get a general idea of what to expect. As always, be sure to check local weather reports for the area you’ll be visiting for daily and hourly updates. We want to caution you, however, that some weather reports often say it’s going to rain every day- this is usually not the case, so don’t be alarmed. There may be intermittent brief showers, but don’t assume your vacation will be a total washout!
General Weather Patterns
The best thing about Hawaii's weather is that it is very localized. You may be driving along the island and be in a rain storm one minute and in bright sun the next. This variety of weather allows you to fully experience Hawaii and its sun-drenched beaches, misty rainbow-filled valleys, pristine waterfalls, cool highlands, and lush mountains. This chart, below, shows the distribution of precipitation annually on the islands; click the chart to enlarge it.
The island of Hawaii, like all the other major Hawaiian Islands, is affected by the trade winds. These winds blow NE to ENE and are typically more prevalent in the winter months. These trade winds bring cool air to the islands from the north, often resulting in precipitation along inland/mountain and windward areas. At times, these winds can die down and practically reverse so that a south wind blows over the islands, resulting in very hot and muggy conditions. These winds are called Kona winds.
One mistake a lot of people make when they visit Hawaii is to assume there is a wet and/or dry season, but it's not quite that simple. Granted, there are two distinct times of year and weather patterns due to the trade winds, but there is no defined "rainy season." The general point to be made is, you can't just say it's rainy in the winter and dry in the summer. We've seen it bone dry in the winter, and had flooding in the summer; each enough times to derail most short-term trends. Still, we can look at the long-term trends and get a general idea of what to expect.
Long-Term Weather Trends
On average, the summer months are the driest and sunniest, but they are also the warmest and most humid. The winter months usually bring more rain to the windward side of the islands- along the north and east- but prolonged rain storms are uncommon.
The southern coasts of each island are the driest parts year round. Also, consider that Hawaii is geographically and topographically one of the most diverse places you'll ever find. The weather from one side of an island to the other varies greatly over distance and topography. Since weather can be so unpredictable in Hawaii, keeping a small poncho with you during hikes or other outdoor activities is a good idea. Unless you hike into any valleys, where clouds can build up and stick around a while, you're likely only to experience rain in short spells.
Hawaii is fortunate in that it has a mild and pleasant temperature throughout the year, although those not used to humidity may be a bit uncomfortable. There is hardly any difference between night and day temperatures year round. The occasional storm or the trade winds may produce an exception to this rule, but even then temperatures don't vary by much. The average high and low in the summer are around 85°F and 71°F, respectively, while the average high and low in the winter are 78°F and 62°F, respectively.
The temperature estimates only apply near sea level, so please keep in mind that elevation changes will alter the temperatures. With every 1,000 ft. climb in elevation, the temperature, on average, drops another 3.5°F. We strongly urge visitors to take note that certain islands' topography changes often, as does elevation. If you plan to visit the summits of Haleakala on Maui or Mauna Kea on the Big Island, you'll also need to prepare accordingly as temperatures at 10,000-14,000 ft. can be downright cold even in the summer months. We advise against winter travel to the summits on the Big Island, as blizzards are not uncommon there. Ultimately, our message is simple: Keep the topography and elevation of where you are traveling in mind and prepare accordingly. Even if you do not plan to visit the summit areas on Maui or the Big Island (or visit either of these islands at all), a light jacket might be useful in other areas around the island you're visiting where elevations are above 3,000-4,000 ft. Jackets or light sweaters are also useful for any dawn/dusk hiking at higher elevations, like Kokee on Kauai or Hawaii Volcanoes Park on the Big Island.
If it's the ocean temperatures you're wondering about, rest assured you'll find warm temperatures year round. Ocean temperatures remain pretty comfortable throughout the year ranging from 80°F in the summer to a milder 74°F in the winter.
El Niño and La Niña
These two weather systems/events both have an impact on the islands. During El Niño winters, the islands are typically drier. Whereas in La Niña years, rainfall in Hawaii has tended to be near to above normal during the winter months. The rainy season has also lasted longer into the spring during La Niña years. Hawaii may receive above normal rainfall not only during the normally wet period of January through March, but during a strong La Niña period the excess wetness may continue through May in many locations.
Individual Island Weather Discussion
We have also written a short narrative about the weather patterns of each island and which areas are the driest to wettest. Check out our Kauai Weather, Maui Weather, Oahu Weather, and Big Island of Hawaii Weather pages.
Be sure to check out our When to Visit Hawaii page for more information about the best time to visit each island.
For detailed information on weather forecasts, we highly recommend you check out NOAA's website.