Hawaii has been hit with sustained blizzard conditions that have dumped over 20 cm (8 inches) of snow onto its mountain peaks late Tuesday into early Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Blizzard warning for Mauna Kea and its sister peak Mauna Loa was canceled Thursday.
While the mountain tops received snow, the rest of the Big Island dealt with heavy rain and thunderstorms that pelted the lower elevations. Both Oahu and Kauai were under flash flood warnings. Temperatures were mild, with highs in the 70s and 80s (21 - 27 °C), USA Today reports.
The National Weather Service said that snow on Hawaii's peaks is not uncommon in the colder months because they are nearly 4.2 km (14 000 feet) high. Mauna Kea has a sub-Arctic climate, it added.
"The reason for the snow amounts being heavier than we usually see is that the upper low (pressure system) really persisted down there, that has allowed colder air to remain locked in place," said Andrew Orrison of the NWS' Weather Prediction Center.
Snow fell on both mountains on at least two occasions in December. Mauna Loa and its sister peak of Mauna Kea, the highest point in the state, are both volcanoes. The only other area of Hawaii that gets snow with any regularity is the Haleakalā volcano on Maui, which at about 3 km (10000 feet) gets snow once every five years or so.
“As long as we have deep enough clouds to support ice crystals, and when you have cold enough temperatures at the summit level, you can get snowfall,” said Matthew Foster, a staff meteorologist with the weather service in Honolulu.
The coldest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was -11.1 °C (12 °F) on Mauna Kea on May 17, 1979.
In California, meanwhile, heavy rains have swollen rivers and reservoirs and blanketed the Sierra Nevada mountains with twice as much snow as usual this winter, helping power the state out of five years of severe drought, Reuters reported.
"With winter not yet over, the state is already among the top two to three seasons on record for snow and rainfall in Northern California. Right now we're looking at potentially an all-time record for rainfall and you have to go back to the winter of 1982-83 for snow pack being as deep as it is."
He added that while there was still some "lingering concern" for Southern California, which has not had as much snow and rain, the northern and central part of the state were no longer considered to be in a drought.
Featured image credit: NASA Aqua/MODIS. Acquired: March 2, 2017