An accumulation of snow was observed along the roadsides near the summit of Haleakalā Tuesday. The observation was made after the most severe impacts from a kona low storm system passed over the state, bringing with it hazardous conditions to the mountaintop in recent days.
Tuesday nightʻs forecast (Dec. 20, 2022) called for lows near 35 °F with isolated showers and damaging winds.
The Summit District remains closed to visitors, and sunrise reservations were canceled for Wednesday morning, Dec. 21, marking a third consecutive day of restrictions due to high winds and unsafe road conditions.
John Bravender, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at NOAA/National Weather Service said the agency also received reports of snow atop Haleakalā within the National Park boundaries early this week. He said the snow likely fell on Sunday or Monday night, with continued showers moving through early Tuesday at elevations below the summit.
Temperatures started to increase after the storm passed, but remained near freezing into Tuesday. Bravender notes that it’s not unusual for snow to fall with temperatures above freezing. “It usually happens when it’s dry (when the dewpoint is well below freezing) or the snow is really heavy (when there’s too much and it doesn’t have time to melt completely before reaching the ground),” he said in an email communication to Maui Now.
Jin Prugsawan Harlow with Haleakalā National Park described the scene as Primarily “ice and sleet,” with “some areas that had small patches of snow but no significant accumulation.”
“The majority has all since melted away,” according to Prugsawan Harlow, who provided us with an update at around 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday.
“Starting on Sunday and continuing over the past few days park experienced high winds at the summit. Park personnel are now focusing on clearing debris from roadways, assessing trails for downed trees and limbs, and working to restore infrastructure at our facilities,” said Prugsawan Harlow.
She reminds the public that the Summit District remains closed to the public. All wilderness cabin and wilderness tent camping reservations for Dec. 21, 2022 are canceled.
“With the closure in effect, we ask that people not attempt to drive to the park, the summit park entrance gate remains closed and you will be turned around and unable to enter park,” she said.
While it’s not super common, snow does fall on occasion at Maui’s highest peak. Winter Weather Warnings often proceed such events, but Maui warnings were restricted to high winds and severe thunderstorms at the location during the storm event. There were however winter weather warnings issued for the summits of Hawaiʻi Island where snow is more common.
Snow fell last year during a winter storm in February and again in April 2021 at Haleakalā. Maui also got a dusting of snow on Feb. 7, 2020, and additional accumulations through Feb. 11, 2020. Prior to that, Maui saw snow atop Haleakalā during a winter storm in 2019 that forced the closure of the summit for at least six days. Other snow events on file include Feb. 18-19, 2018, and March 4-5, 2015.
In addition to the Summit District closure, reservations for Hosmer Grove camping, wilderness cabin and tent camping for Tuesday were canceled. Park visitors were advised that the entrance remained closed, and if they drive to the park they will be asked to turn around.
Park personnel are working to clear roadways of debris, assess trails, and restore power to park facilities.
In East Maui, the Pīpīwai Trail, Kūloa Point Trail, and Kīpahulu Visitor Center in the Kīpahulu District of Haleakalā National Park remain closed at last report. The Kīpahulu District and campground are open, however, access remained limited.
Haleakalā National Park officials advised that the park will reopen once conditions improve. For updates, visit: www.nps.gov/hale.
Hawai’i Island update: Maunakea summit road closed
Meanwhile on Hawaiʻi Island, the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship anticipates the road to the summit of Maunakea to remain closed for at least the next couple of days.
“The recent storm, with winds of more than 100 mph, sleet, freezing rain and heavy snow created a very hard covering of ice and icy snow along with snow drifts on Maunakea Access Road. This makes it exceptionally difficult for CMS staff to clear,” according to a UH Hilo news release issued early Wednesday morning.
Once crews are able to clear one lane above the Visitor Station, they will limit access to essential personnel until the road can fully be reopened.
“Our top priority is keeping the public and our employees safe while on Maunakea,” said Greg Chun in the morning release. “We understand many are eager to head up to enjoy the wintry weather, however until conditions are safe and full access of the road is restored we humbly ask for everyone’s kōkua and patience.”
The public is reminded that the summit of Maunakea can be extremely dangerous. “The weather can change rapidly, resulting in severe conditions including freezing temperatures, blizzards and high winds.”
Like any summit location, emergency services may be hours away because of the remote location and cell phone coverage is unreliable.
When the area does reopen, the public is encouraged to be respectful when visiting Maunakea or any of Hawaiʻi’s cultural sites. “Maunakea is one the most revered places in Hawaiʻi, and many visit the mauna for cultural and religious practices,” CMS representatives advised.
Hazards remain with miles of “unpaved and steep inclines, poor traction, narrow sections where two way traffic is not possible, blind curves and rocks on the road.”