Let’s face it. The main reason most people come to a tropical island is for the weather. The chance to escape the cold, gray, lifeless, frozen wastelands of the north and bask in the warmth and sunshine with a light tropical breeze. It’s a big factor in why I moved south. I hate winter and any kind of cold weather. It took years to finally find a place where I didn’t freeze nor have to rely on artificial means to control the climate. And in case you have never been, it is totally worth it. You can have your change of seasons, the crisp autumn air, the fresh snowfall on the ground, and all the misery which comes with it. Give me perpetual summer and I’m happy.
So, having spent many a year in the Keys, and 6 months here in Maui, let me give a few bits of information on what the weather is like. Let’s start with the Keys.
Winter in the Keys is basically like a warm summer up north, only warmer, and more humid. For the most part, temps run in the 70’s during the day and drop into the low 60’s at night. It doesn’t rain everyday like the summer and rarely do temps dip into the 50’s. It does tend to be a bit more breezy but nothing major except…when the cold fronts come through.
During the winter, cold fronts develop way up north and make their way through the south part of the country. The cold air clashes with the usual warm air and forms a long curved line of heavy storms with gusty winds and lightning. Tornadoes form on occasion as the front heads further south. Depending on the jet stream, time of year, etc. the fronts will make their way all the way through Florida and into the Keys. Before the fronts hit, the weather will be extra mild, almost spring like with very little winds and warm temperatures. The waters are calm and it’s really nice to be out. But as the fronts move in you can follow the line of storms as they approach the islands. Weather advisories go up, hatches get battened, and things go downhill very quickly.
When the fronts hit, there are big gusts of wind, rain, thunder and lightning, and a very noticeable drop in temperatures. The upside is the fronts pass through rather quickly but it remains very windy and cooler, compared to what it was before said fronts came. The cold and wind usually lasts a few days and things get back to normal rather quickly. But if one is used to warm temps, the cold feels a lot worse than it is. Coupled with the high humidity it’s pretty damn uncomfortable.
These fronts come through fairly regularly in the winter and as spring approaches they don’t quite reach the Keys, bringing on more better conditions.
Springtime doesn’t last too long. Temps slowly go up and it’s pretty windy this time of the year. Not a lot of rain to start but as late April approaches, the first signs of summer approach. Temps hit into the 80’s and the humidity goes up. Then the rains start.
Summertime is hot. Very hot. Like hot you ain’t used to. Did I mention it gets hot? It gets hot. The winds die down, the humidity is at max, the sun is out in all it’s glory and the water and land heats up. It quickly becomes necessary to have some ac going. Even the most hardened residents down there need to come up with some way to cool off. Boats offshore away from shore power keep hatches open as often as possible taking advantage of whatever breeze comes through. Stores, resorts, and other public buildings run the ac at full blast, almost too cold. It’s not uncommon to walk from 90 plus outside to 70 inside. It’s like walking into a freezer sometimes. Tourists in particular, especially ones not used to the heat, will rarely leave and go outside for any length of time simply because they cannot handle the heat and humidity. You’ll hear them bitch, moan, whine, and snivel all day and night about the heat. Personally, I love it, but then, it’s one reason why I moved there. Then, in addition to the heat, there are the summer storms.
When the heat and humidity really kick in, thunderstorms form up and down the islands, onshore and off. These are full on thunder boomers with a ton of lightning and torrential rains. Many times the storms are isolated. You could be standing on one end of Key West in the sun and warmth, and it would look like the end of the world at the other end with the high black clouds and lightning flashing. At night one can see storms nearly 100 miles off in the distance, putting on spectacular lightning shows. On the water, these storms will stir up waterspouts, basically, tornadoes on the water. Most of these are harmless and dissipate before coming ashore.
The stormy weather will continue well into the fall bringing on everyone’s favorite time of the year, hurricane season. Starting on June 1st and running into the end of November, hurricane season is on the back of everyone’s mind in the Keys, especially those who live or work on the water. Storms actually hitting the Keys have been few in number, particularly over the past few years. It’s really a matter of time before another one does hit and given how low the islands are to sea level, and how over developed they are, it will be bad.
One upside is the Keys have a bit of buffer between them and the big storms. Most said storms come from the east and must pass over Cuba, the island of Hispaniola, and the shallow waters of the Bahamas before coming to Florida. The high mountains on Cuba and the other islands will slow a storm down or the wind currents will steer the storms to the north or away from the islands before they have a chance to really crank up. But, there is always the chance one will make it through intact and when it does, look out. One good thing, hurricanes don’t sneak up on you. The weather services and Monroe County are on constant watch and with the Overseas Highway in more better shape now, the islands can be evacuated in 24 hours.
Autumn, despite the storm season in the background is one of the more better times of the year in the Keys. Around October the humidity breaks, the daily rains slacken off, and the temps drop to the point one can turn off the air conditioning. Autumn lasts until January when the first of the winter cold fronts start to move in.
Overall, it’s warm to hot in the Keys, a pretty fair amount of rain, breezy on occasion, and it never freezes.
So how does the Keys weather compare to Maui? Let’s take a look.
As I write this sure-to-be-award-winning post here in Kihei on the island of Maui, it is pouring torrential rain, flash flooding in some areas of the islands, a brown water alert for the island, trees down all over, 130 mph gusts on the top of Haleakala, and blizzard conditions on the top of the volcanoes of the Big Island. A true island paradise.
In fact, much like the Keys, Hawaii gets storm fronts coming through now and then. The big difference is these fronts remain over water until they reach here so there is nothing to slow them down. When they do hit, and it’s not that often, they hit with all force of a minor tropical storm. It’s quite the experience and sometimes deadly depending on where you may be on the island when said storm hits.
I am at a bit of a disadvantage when writing about Hawaii weather. I came here in Sept. and it’s now the beginning of March so I have not yet experienced a Hawaii summer yet. It remains to be seen if I will be here during the summer but I suspect it will be pretty warm.
One thing I will say, since I have been here, we have not had to turn on the air conditioner once. The windows remain open all the time, and with a few ceiling fans, the place is more than comfortable, quite pleasant actually. The kind of weather I have seeking out for my many years on this planet. One thing I have noticed when traveling around is the seemingly lack of central ac in most homes and buildings. I see window units all over and even here, in this 2 bedroom condo, all we have is a rusty old 5000 BTU unit which looks like it has not run in years. It makes me think it never really gets too hot here or the cost to run ac is too great. Either way, I am fine without it. Many of the stores run the ac to the max to appease the tourists but some places like the malls in Kahului are open air with just a roof to block the sun, and no ac running. Open air places just seem to be more pleasant to be in instead of the stuffy, sterile climate controlled rooms.
Here on Maui, where you are can make a big difference in the weather. In Kihei, on the west side where I live, it is almost desert conditions most of the year. Very little rainfall. In fact, the current storm is about the third time it has really rained since I came here. Most days it’s sunny, warm, breezy and quite pleasant, highs in the mid 80’s, lows in the mid 70’s. The humidity is not too high and going outside to do stuff is very comfortable.
Go on the east side of the island and it’s a different story. The east side, also known as the windward side, gets the heavier winds and it rains, almost everyday. This is where you will find the tropical forests and higher humidity. The surf is much more higher on this side and the ocean a bit rougher.
If one were to go up the side of the mountains on either side of the valley, conditions change quite rapidly. In the towns located at about the 4000 foot level, temps are about 10 degrees cooler and in winter can get into the 40’s. Go to the top and it freezes, sometimes even in summer.
One thing which is rare out here despite all the rain is lightning. I don’t know why but I have only heard it thunder once or twice since I moved here and have yet to see any lightning. On radar the storms look nasty, but it seems to be mostly rain.
Like the Keys, there is a hurricane season out here in the Pacific also. Hawaii has been hit more than a few times by storms over the years. Unlike the surrounding waters of the Keys, there is nothing to stop or slow down a storm. It’s just the deep, warm waters of the Pacific feeding a storm as it crosses. The upside is with all the mountains a storm can be cut down pretty fast once it hits the islands. If one is on the lee side of where the storm hits, chances are the damage will be much less.
In addition to storms, there is always the chance of the odd volcano erupting, perhaps an earthquake now and then, and a chance of a tsunami, but these are rare occurrences.
Overall, since I have been out here, the weather has been more better than anyplace else I have lived. In the 80’s during the day, low 70’s at night, some windy day but mostly mild breezes, rarely any rain, and just generally nice out, day and night. It’s really a nice change of pace to not have to keep separate wardrobes for different seasons and know you can go outside, do stuff, and not be in danger of freezing to death, unless you are working at the top of the mountains. Maui has had the closest ideal weather I have been seeking all my life. It’s been an island paradise as far as weather is concerned.
So, if you are going to make your way to either the Keys or Hawaii, or both, keep in mind it’s probably going to be more warm than what you are used too. Leave the heavy clothes back home and dress in light weight, light colored clothing when on the islands. Take it easy outside because heat stroke can catch up to you fast. Drink lots of non alcoholic fluids during the day. Use sunscreen if you are not used to the big ball of yellow heat and light striking your bare skin. And enjoy the nice weather. You don’t have to shovel sunshine. It won’t make the roads slippery. Life on the islands moves at a more slower pace because of the heat and humidity.
Slow down with it and you’ll enjoy it more better.