Palm trees swaying in the wind

You’re probably aware that Hawaii’s wonderful weather is due to the trade winds. In fact, “gentle trade winds” is a phrase used in virtually everything you read or hear about the islands along with “white sand beaches,” “swaying palms” and “lush tropical gardens.”

But what, exactly, are trade winds? Where do they come from? Why do they blow across Hawaii? How come there are no trade winds in Vermont, West Virginia, Idaho, New Mexico or even California?

Here’s the best explanation we’ve been able to come up with:

A series of rotating air cells circulates air from the warmer areas near the equator toward the poles and then back again. (Those air cells swirl around the globe at the same band of latitude both above and below the equator, missing the continental U.S. altogether.) The warm air rises to the south of the Hawaiian islands and moves — at high levels — northward. It drops back to sea level north of Hawaii and flows again toward the equator. That crates winds that blow along the surface of the ocean from the northeast. Those are what we call the trade winds. They got their name from the early traders who sailed all over the world, became familiar with the winds and used them well for navigation and speed.

When there are no trade winds in Hawaii, we get Kona winds, which bring the vog (volcanic fog) from the Big Island to the other islands, especially Maui and Oahu. “Kona” is Polynesian word for “leeward.” Kona winds come from the opposite direction of the trades — from the south- and west-facing leeward sides. They can be h3 and gusty, and bring warm and muggy conditions to Hawaii.”

Many locals dread the Kona winds. When they occur, mothers keep their children out of the ocean and families look to indoor activities. If you are vacationing here, you may not notice the difference and wonder at those of us on the beaches and streets who are fanning ourselves and complaining about the humidity.

You’ll probably think we’re crazy.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Bruce,

    I found this post while searching “what happened to the trade winds?”. Perhaps you should update this post (2008) since things have changed a lot.

    The trades have disappeared! Muggy and voggy since May 2013 most of the time it seems (Waikiki). The trades returned for 2 days about 2 weeks ago then back to vog and humidity.

    Fees like SW Florida. What are your thoughts?

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