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This weekend, Hawaii will get more snow than Boston

Parts of Hawaii could be blanketed in snow this weekend. That’s not as uncommon as you might think.

The summit of Mauna Kea on Hawaii's Big Island covered in snow as seen from Waimea, Hawaii on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016.Grant Matsushige

Hawaii is known for its sunny beaches, which are perfect for escaping the East Coast’s frigid winter temperatures. But this weekend, parts of the state could be blanketed in snow.

On Friday, a strong cold front moved southeast through the Hawaiian Islands. It is expected to stall over the state’s largest archipelago, known as the Big Island, the following day.

Though most of the Islands will see a downpour of rain, the National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning from 6 p.m. Friday through 6 a.m. Sunday, warning that parts of state could see 12 inches or more of snow. With wind speeds up to 100 miles per hour also expected, the agency suggested that residents stay indoors through the weekend.


“Travel could be very difficult to impossible,” it said in a release. “Blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility at times, with periods of zero visibility.”

Snow in Hawaii must be a sign that something is amiss, right? Not necessarily. Hawaii is in the tropics, but it is home to ecosystems of many different climates, depending on altitude and surroundings. In some parts of the state, snowfall is a regular phenomenon. At Hawaii’s two mountain peaks, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa — both of which sit more than 13,000 feet above sea level, high above the state’s balmy beaches — snow comes down every year. In recent years, it has also been falling at lower elevations.

Still, a blizzard warning in Hawaii is a rare occurrence. Though the state has been under winter storm warnings from the National Weather Service an average of three times each year, blizzard warnings have occurred just five times in the last decade. The last time the state saw such a warning was back in March 2018.

In a surer sign that our climate is changing, while Hawaii may soon be blanketed in white, snowfall has been scarce across most of the United States. Just 6 percent of the contiguous United States is covered in snow as of Friday, which is the lowest extent in nearly two decades of recordkeeping. The vast majority of the lower 48 states recorded below-average snowfall last month, according to CNN meteorologists. Denver, for instance, is still awaiting its first snow of the year. On Friday, the city broke the record for the latest date for a first snowfall.


Though Massachusetts saw its first snow of 2021 last week, the tendency toward less-snowy winters may affect the area, too, in the coming years, especially because the Northeast is the fastest warming region of the contiguous US. Studies show that Massachusetts and the greater New England region will experience warmer winters as the climate crisis progresses, which means snow will likely fall less frequently — although when it does come down, it might do so more intensely.

This isn’t a fluke; it’s a pattern. According to federal data, total snowfall has decreased in many parts of the country since recordkeeping began in 1930, with 57 percent of stations showing a decrease. And though snow is expected to fall there this weekend, Hawaii isn’t immune from this trend. In fact, one 2017 study found that thanks to the climate crisis, snow in Hawaii could be eliminated by the end of the century.


Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.