Lucky visitors to Hawai‘i Island in winter time may enjoy the lovely sight of the snow covered peaks of Hawai‘i’s two tallest mountains: Mauna Loa (4169 m) in the south and Mauna Kea (4207 m) in the north. Mauna Kea, which means “white mountain” in Hawaiian, is believed to be the home of Poli‘ahu, the Hawaiian deity of snow. Though the summits of these mountains are mostly clear and the clouds keep below an inversion layer around 1500–2500-m height, the typical weather pattern usually breaks down several times each winter, and convective storms blanket the summits in snow. There is little systematic monitoring of snowfall, unfortunately, but large snowstorms can cover the mountains down to about 3500 m.
The animation below shows results of the Hawai‘i Regional Climate Model simulations for “present day” (1990–2009) and the late 21st century. The white coloring denotes areas where the 20-year mean snowfall for the month is greater than 5 cm (5 mm liquid water equivalent). The model results suggest that by the end of the present century the significant snow cover of the mountains on Hawai‘i Island may disappear.