Snow in Hawai'i: What does the future hold?

May 4, 2017, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Snow is on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, Hawai'i. Credit: Gisela Speidel

Daydreams of the tropical paradise of Hawai'i rarely include snow in the imagery, but nearly every year, a beautiful white blanket covers the highest peaks in the state for at least a few days. However, systematic observations of snowfall and the snow cover dimensions on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are practically nonexistent. A group of climate modelers led by Chunxi Zhang from the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa used satellite images to quantify recent snow cover distributions patterns. They developed a regional climate model to simulate the present-day snowfalls and then to project future Hawaiian snowfalls. Their results indicate that the two volcano summits are typically snow-covered at least 20 days each winter, on average, but that the snow cover will nearly disappear by the end of the century.

To evaluate the current situation, Zhang and his colleagues examined surface composition data retrieved from satellite imagery of Hawai'i Island from 2000 to 2015 to construct a daily index of . They used this data compilation to evaluate the quality of their regional atmospheric model, based on global climate projections that included several scenarios of anticipated . Zhang then ran simulations representative of the end of the 21st century, assuming a moderate business-as-usual scenario for greenhouse gas emissions projections, to establish how long Hawai'i might enjoy its occasional glimpses of white-topped mountains.

"We recognized that Hawaiian snow has an aesthetic and recreational value, as well as a cultural significance, for residents and visitors," explained Zhang. "So, we decided to examine just what the implications of future climate change would be for future snowfall in Hawai'i." Unfortunately, the projections suggest that future average winter snowfall will be ten times less than present day amounts, virtually erasing all snow cover.

Long term annual snowfall on Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea on Hawai'i Island. a) Current average snowfall (in mm of liquid water equivalent) b) Projected snowfall by 2100, from model run with moderate emissions scenario. Topographic contour interval is 200 m. Credit: Zhang, et al. (2017)

The findings were not a total surprise, with future projections showing that even with moderate climate warming, air temperatures over the higher altitudes increase even more than at sea level, and that, on average, fewer winter storm systems will impact the state. However, the group's new method for establishing the current cover on these Hawaiian mountains provides another avenue for monitoring the progression of climate change in the region. Ultimately, this study also illustrates the benefits of the recent trend in model downscaling, highlighting the regional and local effects of .

Explore further: Less snow and a shorter ski season in the Alps

More information: Chunxi Zhang et al, Monitoring and Projecting Snow on Hawaii Island, Earth's Future (2017). DOI: 10.1002/2016EF000478

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8 comments

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adam_russell_9615
2.3 / 5 (3) May 04, 2017
OT interesting fact:
The Samoan word for snow is... they dont have a word for snow.
mosahlah
1 / 5 (5) May 05, 2017
Yep. Global warming is going to happen.......................................... someday.
SteveS
5 / 5 (2) May 05, 2017
OT interesting fact:
The Samoan word for snow is... they dont have a word for snow.

Kiona
https://glosbe.com/sm/en/kiona
zorro6204
not rated yet May 05, 2017
The only people who care about snow here are tourists. You can see them rubber necking as they crawl up the Waimea hill and slowing down to pull over to take pictures, driving us locals crazy. Hawaii is really not the aloha state, we hate tourists.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) May 05, 2017
Yep. Global warming is going to happen.......................................... someday.

You don't have a clue what global warming means, do you?

Hint: it's not "take the weather today at every spot on the planet and add x degrees"
JamesG
1 / 5 (3) May 05, 2017
Doctors of all kinds, including medical doctors, are just educated guessers. Medical doctors make an educated guess as to what therapy to give a patient. Sometimes they are right and sometimes wrong. Climate scientists are educated guessers. Some of what they predict will PROBABLY come true. A lot of it will not. There is no such thing as settled science. Scientists make competing theories all the time and some of them get very angry if some other scientist disagrees. Many believe sea rise will be only a few centimeters while many believe (These are Al Gore's favorites) it will be tens of feet. There is no agreement. But debate in the scientific world is what gets us closer to the truth.

However, today, debate is unhealthy for a scientist's careers if it disagrees with this so called settled science. This is unhealthy. It has caused a few to adjust numbers to show a worse prediction. Beware of someone who tells you he or she can predict the future.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) May 06, 2017
Medical doctors make an educated guess as to what therapy to give a patient.

However they are a LOT more right than they are wrong. Especially if several of them come to the same conclusion independently.

In climate science we have tens of thousands of researchers coming to the smae conclusion independently. If that#s the kind of thing you still file under "but it's still highly likely that they're all wrong" then I have some meteorite insurance I'd like to sell you.

At some point a dioagnosis is accepted as what it is. Yes, there's a 0.000001% chance it may be wrong. But if you're betting your life every day on chances much, much, MUCH worse than that by just going outside (never mind handling a car). At some point it's just prudent to act on the overwhelming likely state of affairs. And we've passed that threshold a long time ago.
zz5555
5 / 5 (2) May 06, 2017
Many believe sea rise will be only a few centimeters while many believe

Well, we've already caused sea level to rise a few centimeters and, given the accelerating melt of ice, that would suggest that the "Many" have already been proven wrong.
However, today, debate is unhealthy for a scientist's careers if it disagrees with this so called settled science.

All the evidence proves this wrong. It's only unhealthy if you have no science or data to back you up. If you ever go to a science conference, you'll see that there's lots of debate, some of it quite forceful.
It has caused a few to adjust numbers to show a worse prediction.

The only group that has been found to "fudge" the numbers are those opposed to the science.
Beware of someone who tells you he can predict the future.

This seems nonsensical. If I hold a rock above ground and claim that if I let go, it will drop - will you really be skeptical of my "prediction"? Did you mean to be this silly?

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