4:00 p.m. update: The National Weather Service forecast office in Honolulu has upgraded the Blizzard Watch for the Big Island mountain peaks to a Blizzard Warning – with the potential for up to a foot of wind-driven snow at altitudes above 11,500 feet.
2:10 p.m. update: Web cameras from the summit of both Mauna Loa (altitude 13,678 feet) and Mauna Kea (altitude 13,796 feet) on the Big Island show snow on the ground there as of this morning (local time):
Original post from 11:12 a.m.
Thanks to a very warm weather pattern, snow cover in the Lower 48 is scarce. Minneapolis is the only major city that may awaken to a White Christmas this year.
Yet strangely, there is a chance of snow in our 50th state through Christmas Eve and the Big Island peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea may appear more “Christmasy” than Boston and Buffalo Thursday morning.
The National Weather Service forecast office in Honolulu has hoisted a blizzard watch for the Big Island summits through Wednesday afternoon.
Some serious weather is possible on those towering peaks, which ascend over 13,000 feet. Among the possible hazards according to the NWS? Very strong winds, bitterly cold wind chills, possible heavy snow, blowing and drifting snow, and lightning strikes.
Snow accumulations could reach 6 inches or more with possible whiteout conditions due to howling winds of 45 to 65 mph, gusting up to a rip-roaring 90 mph.
Note, however, the NWS has issued a “blizzard watch” indicating only potential for such conditions, as opposed to a warning, which would signify such severe weather was imminent or already occurring.
“[The blizzard] is kind of an iffy thing,” said Jeff Powell, a lead forecaster at the NWS office in Honolulu. “There could be precipitation. We’re not sure if it’s going to be snow or how much. What we’re more sure of are the strong winds.”
Snow on the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea is not unusual and typically happens a few times a year. However, official weather records are not maintained there, so it’s impossible to say the last time these tropical summits were capped by snow on Christmas Day.
The storm affecting the Big Island is fairly vigorous and is expected to impact most of the Hawaiian Islands with wind and rain through Wednesday.
“Thunderstorms are likely across the main Hawaiian islands as a potent disturbance aloft drops over the state,” summarizes the NWS office in Honolulu. “The potential for heavy flooding rainfall and thunderstorms, as well as dangerous winter weather on the Big Island summits, will persist through at least Wednesday. Drier conditions are expected Thursday and Friday.”
Flash flood warnings were issued for parts of the Big Island and Maui early Tuesday morning, where some areas had already received 4 to 5 inches of rain.