Depending on where you are on Maui, the weather conditions can be very different. It can be snowing in one area (OK, the summit of Haleakala, specifically) and 85 and sunny on the beach. That’s an extreme example. Less extreme is it can be pouring down rain near the airport, but 15 miles away at the same elevation in Kihei it can be blue skies and sunny. Why? Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out Maui’s wacky weather patterns.
First, a quick primer. Maui is generally broken down into four regions, central, leeward, windward and upcountry. The reason for the wild weather swings is due to a few factors:
- Haleakala and the West Maui Mountains. These mountains keep rain locked on one side of the mountain. For example, the east side of the West Maui Mountains will receive 400 inches of rain a year. But the west side of the mountains (Lahaina) will receive around a foot of rain a year.
- Another factor in the weather, also related to the mountains, are the winds. The trade winds, arrive from the northeast for about 80% of the year. When they are blowing, they will wrap around the mountains, causing a jet stream-like action, increasing its force. We’ll go deeper on this phenomenon later in the article. The other winds on Maui, called Kona Winds, come from the south. They tend to bring with them vog (volcano ash fog) from the Big Island and are generally less strong than the trade winds.
- Finally, half the island is within 5 miles of the ocean. This creates a strong marine influence for these parts of Maui, but the other half of the island sees no effects.
Maui’s Four Main Regions
When you land at the airport, you’re in Central Maui. Central Maui is basically Kahului and Wailuku. Wailuku is the home of the government buildings and sits at the base of the West Maui Mountains. Because of it proximity to the mountains, Wailuku tends to be wetter than Kahului. But, being trapped between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala, both towns feature warm temperatures while having less wind and higher humidity than the leeward side of the island.
The most popular region for visitors is the leeward side, which consists of the south shore (Kihei/Wailea/Makena) and the west side (Lahaina, Kaanapali and Kapalua). Here is where the trade winds really come in to play. The West Maui Mountains splits the winds. As the winds on the north side of island blow, they will continue to hug the north shore, but these same winds will also be funneled between the West Maui Mountains and Haleakala. This blast of wind ends up releasing in Maalaea then wrapping along the Kihei/Wailea coasts. This is why it can be so incredibly windy in the Maalaea harbor and the south shore. Seeing whitecaps in the Maalaea Harbor is common. The mountains that funnel the winds though, also block the rain from coming over to the leeward side, which is why it’s the sunniest, warmest and driest part of the island. Just take note of the afternoon winds, which can make the beach, with sand being kicked up, a bit unpleasant.
The coolest part of the island can get downright cold in the winter (the 40s are not unusual). When people say “upcountry,” they’re generally referring to the Makawao-Pukulani-Kula area. The highway from Kula to Haleakala is also considered upcountry. Upcountry, which is between 1,700 to 4500 feet elevation, is a popular location for residents to reside because of the cooler temperatures, which average in the 70’s and low 80’s vs. the 80’s and low 90’s of the leeward side. Upcountry also has far less humidity, especially compared to Central Maui. Generally speaking, Upcountry has the most comfortable climate.
Consisting of the north shore (Paia/Haiku) and the east side (Hana) of Maui, the windward side is noted for its high winds in Paia and rain around Hana. The northeast trade winds in Paia create legendary conditions for kite boarding and windsurfing. In fact, it’s considered one of the best locations in the world for these activities. Meanwhile, down the road on the Hana Highway, if you stay at around sea level, the weather isn’t noticeably more wet. But as you climb elevations along the side of Haleakala, you’ll be entering rain forests where it rains 365 days a year.
Do you have any questions about Maui’s weather? Ask below in the comments, and we’ll try to assist you.