Hawaii Trade Winds, Kona Winds and VOG

Hawaii Trade Winds, Kona Winds and VOG

We’re celebrating the return today of Hawaii trade winds after a two week absence. It’s been hot and sticky here both day and night leaving Hawaii feeling similar to Florida in the summer. Tradewinds blow most of the time. It is our natural weather moderator and air conditioning, making Hawaii weather completely unique and superb.

We think of trade winds as coming from Alaska, because they are cool and dry (although they also bring mountain showers). You can hear them rustling in the trees as they blow gently from the north and east. These have been called trade winds for centuries, from a time when cargo ships were dependent on them for fast movement. And they are the reason you seldom need air conditioning in Hawaii. In fact many of us here dislike air conditioning and find it both unnecessary and expensive (with by far the most costly electricity in the country).

Kona Conditions Defined

We’re not talking coffee here. When we don’t have trade winds, either no winds are present or winds blow from the south. We call these Kona conditions. They can occur at any time, but we often associate them with winter storm conditions.

Since the Kilauea volcano began erupting in 1983, Kona winds can also bring volcanic fog (Vog) up the island chain. This makes visibility poor and causes eye and respiratory irritation. In fact Vog feels quite like smog with another name.

Current Hawaii Weather Conditions

While we’re enjoying the cooler, dryer air, and scrumptious fall weather, NOAA is forcasting yet another bout of warm sticky air sometime next week.

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  1. MARK COONEY (1 year ago)

    I spent a month on the big island, loved it. I want to know in what direction the vog from the volcanoes goes. would like to avoid most of it. what is the best area on the west coast with beaches that you would consider relatively absent of vog. haven’t been north of Kona. what’s the NW area like?

  2. Carrie (1 year ago)

    Interesting article. You explained the source of the trade winds but what causes the Kona winds? Is this unusual or typical for fall/winter in Hawaii?

    • davin (1 year ago)

      “Kona” winds are a normal part of the weather cycle in Hawaii. It’s sort of the same as “Santa Ana” winds in SoCal, just not as fierce. If trade winds are driven by pressure differences north-east of the islands, Kona winds are caused by pressure difference to the southwest. They aren’t predictable, meaning, you can’t set your calendar by them. We can get Kona wind conditions any time of year.

      “Kona” can be translated as “leeward” (opposite of windward) so colloquially, “kona winds” means the winds are blowing in the opposite direction.

      They’re not always a bad thing. As an airplane enthusiast, some of the best plane spotting can be done during “Kona Wind” conditions, and sure, it brings a lot of vog up from the Big Island, and visibility can get pretty poor, and if you have allergies or asthma, beware; but the sunsets sure do get prettier… sometimes.

  3. Mary Lu Kelley (1 year ago)

    Thanks guys for keeping us all up to date on th weather and for all info on the great sales for flights to Hawaii. I have relatives from Connecticut and Minnesota who are planning trips because of your info and because they want to visit me in Hawaii, of course.

    Aloha & A Hui Hou,
    Mary Lu