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With its tropical climate and Pacific temperatures, Hawaii is not often thought of as a place that gets very cold. However, the islands do experience a range of temperatures due to high elevations and occasional cold fronts sweeping down from the north.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The coldest temperature ever recorded in Hawaii was 12 degrees Fahrenheit (-11 degrees Celsius) at Mauna Kea Observatory on May 17, 1979 at an elevation of 13,796 feet.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything related to Hawaii’s coldest temperatures including geographic factors that lead to lower temps, record lows across the islands, what months tend to be the coldest, what the average low temps are during Hawaii’s winter, and how to prepare for cool conditions.

Geographic Factors Leading to Cold Temps

High Elevations

Hawaii’s high elevations lead to substantially cooler temperatures compared to the warm tropical climate found along the coasts. For example, the summit of Mauna Kea reaches 13,796 feet above sea level and frequently sees winter storms that drop the temperature well below freezing with winds over 100 mph.

In fact, Mauna Kea holds records for the coldest temperature ever measured in the tropical Pacific, a frigid 12°F recorded on May 17, 1979.

In addition, trade wind inversions can trap cold air in the mountains. The temperature differences between Hawaii’s peaks and coastal regions routinely exceed 30 degrees. Visitors planning high-elevation hiking or astronomy adventures on Mauna Kea or Haleakala should be prepared with winter jackets and insulation.

Cold Fronts and Storms

While Hawaii’s subtropical location keeps it relatively warm and sunny overall, strong winter storms and cold fronts do impact the islands. Weather systems from the north typically bring clouds, rain showers, thunderstorms, high winds, and noticeably cooler conditions several times per winter.

For example, a winter storm in February 2019 dropped temperatures into the mid 50s Fahrenheit along with heavy rainfall and thunderstorms. In 2008, the National Weather Service reported that “a rather significant and unusually cold air mass” helped set February low temperature records across Hawaii.

So even though Hawaii enjoys warm and pleasant weather most of the year, visitors should be ready for cooler and wetter conditions during the winter months from December through March, especially when cold fronts pass through the islands.

Record Low Temperatures in Hawaii

Hawaii is known for its warm, tropical climate year-round. However, the islands do occasionally experience cooler temperatures during the winter months. Here’s an overview of some record low temperatures that have occurred in Hawaii:

Mauna Kea Summit

At 13,796 feet above sea level, the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island has the coldest temperatures in Hawaii. According to the National Weather Service, the lowest temperature ever recorded at the Mauna Kea summit was 12°F (-11°C) on May 17, 1979.

The high elevation means winter nights can get downright frigid. Lows below freezing are common from November through March. Brrr! ❄️ Mauna Kea gets occasional snowfall too – the summit is one of the only places in Hawaii to see the white stuff.

Haleakala Summit

Haleakala, a massive shield volcano on Maui, has the next coldest temperatures. Haleakala summit hits below freezing fairly often in winter. The record low at the summit is 16°F (-9°C), measured on January 18, 1981.

Temperatures commonly plunge into the 20s and 30s overnight. And just like Mauna Kea, the 10,000-foot summit of Haleakala gets periodic snow in winter.

Mauna Loa Summit

The Mauna Loa volcano on Hawaii Island reaches 13,679 feet at its summit. While not quite as high as Mauna Kea, it still gets exceptionally cold.

Mauna Loa’s record low temperature is 17°F (-8°C), recorded on January 5, 1975. Overnight lows below freezing happen every winter here.

Kahului, Maui

Down at sea level, temperatures moderate quite a bit. But many Hawaii towns have still recorded sub-freezing lows.🥶

Kahului, on the northern coastline of Maui, dipped to 30°F (-1°C) on January 31, 1969. That’s the coldest reading ever measured in Kahului.

Lihue, Kauai

On the Garden Isle of Kauai, the town of Lihue reached 31°F (-1°C) on February 1, 1969. Brrrr, even the tropical paradise of Kauai gets a cold snap now and then!

Hilo, Hawaii

The rainiest city in the United States, Hilo on the windward side of Hawaii Island has recorded a record low of 46°F (8°C). This frigid reading occurred on both January 31, 1969 and February 1, 1969.

While winters are mild compared to most places, keeping an extra sweater around just in case isn’t a bad idea on your Hawaii vacation. 😊 Even the normally balmy beaches can feel downright cold on those rare extra chilly nights.

Coldest Months and Average Winter Lows in Hawaii

December, January and February

The winter months of December, January and February are typically the coldest months of the year in Hawaii. This is when strong cold fronts from the north can bring cold, windy weather and temperatures can drop to their lowest points.

January is often the coldest month, with average lows in the mid to high 60s Fahrenheit at lower elevations. However, brief cold snaps can bring temperatures into the 50s or even 40s in some areas. The record low for Hawaii is 12°F on Mauna Kea volcano, though most populated areas have record lows in the 40s.

Brrr! 🥶

Average Low Temperatures

Here are the average winter low temperatures in some popular Hawaiian destinations (in Fahrenheit):

  • Honolulu: 66°F
  • Maui (Kahului): 63°F
  • Big Island (Hilo): 66°F
  • Kauai (Lihue): 65°F

The average temperatures don’t tell the whole story though. At higher elevations, lows can be significantly cooler. For example, while Hilo stays relatively mild, up at the Mauna Kea summit, lows average 36°F in the winter with frequent subfreezing temperatures.

Wet wintry weather only adds to the chill.

So while Hawaii sees endless summer for much of the year, winter can bring a taste of cold weather. Locals may even dawn jackets and sweaters during an especially brisk cold front. But the chill doesn’t tend to last too long before the islands heat up again.

Planning for Cool and Cold Conditions

Pack Proper Clothing

When visiting Hawaii, be prepared for cooler temperatures by packing layers of lightweight clothing. Temperatures can drop into the 60s at higher elevations and during winter months. Bring items like long sleeve shirts, pants, sweaters, and jackets that can be layered as needed (1).

Proper footwear like closed-toe shoes, socks, and even rain boots are also smart choices. Having the right clothes will keep you comfortable whether you’re exploring volcanoes or relaxing at the beach.

Plan for Precipitation

Hawaii has a tropical climate, which means rain showers can occur suddenly. Even during sunny seasons, be ready for pop-up precipitation. Pack a compact rain jacket or poncho and keep it accessible in your day bag. Depending on your activities, having waterproof shoes or sandals is also handy.

If hiking or spending extensive time outdoors, water-resistant clothing can make a wet day much more enjoyable. Being prepared for rain lets you make the most of your Hawaiian vacation regardless of clouds or drizzle.

Check Forecasts Frequently

Hawaii’s weather can vary greatly from island to island and even within a single island. High elevations experience chillier temps than coastal regions. Before your trip, research typical climate conditions based on location and time of year.

While visiting, stay updated on local forecasts from sources like National Weather Service and NOAA. Depending on your plans, having advance notice of cooling temps, storms, or high winds allows you to adjust accordingly.

Checking often prevents weather surprises from disrupting sightseeing, beach days, or other adventures (2). With the right information, you can confidently navigate Hawaii’s magnificent landscapes in total comfort.


While Hawaii enjoys mostly warm tropical weather year-round, the islands can see cold temperatures during winter months especially at higher elevations. Knowing what to expect in terms of lows along with taking some preparation precautions for higher elevations and cold fronts can ensure you stay comfortable.

The coldest temp recorded, a frigid 12°F at Mauna Kea, proves Hawaii can truly get quite cold compared to what most envision. By packing properly and checking forecasts, visitors and residents alike can continue enjoying Hawaii’s marvelous landscapes even during occasional cold snaps.

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