When it does snow, there is usually hail as well and an argument ensues between the rangers of Haleakala National Park and meteorologists over whether or not it actually snowed, or just hailed. Often, there are both in the course of the same storm, but I think due to the noise on the roof (and bodily pain) that hail can cause, it is hail that the park rangers focus on, and the sun usually melts the evidence of snow long before the icy hail.
For my friends who live in the tropics full time, hail is ball shaped ice caused by raindrops being lifted by the strong vertical winds inside thunderstorms until reaching an altiude where it freezes. It then becomes to heavy to stay aloft. As it falls it may collide with more rain drops, be lifted again, and so on, getting larger and larger until finally becoming so large that the winds can no longer prevent it from falling to earth. My mother grew up in Kansas and has told me of hail stones the size of baseballs, which are capable of breaking car windshields, putting holes in roofs, and if you are unlucky enough to be hit by one, ruining your whole day. More commonly, especially in warmer climes, it is smaller than a pea.
Snow on the other hand is water that freezes in the clouds and falls as crystals or "snow flakes". The flakes can also collide as they fall and stick together, but they are much softer than hail.
Ironic for either to fall on Haleakala, as the name is Hawaiian for house (hale) of the sun (a kala). Legend has it that the demigod Maui, seeking to make the day longer so that his mother's freshly made kapa (cloth made by pounding tree bark fibers) would have time to dry, went to the summit and used his throw net to capture the sun and slow its progress across the sky.
The last time I saw snow on Haleakala was on March 2nd of 1990. Of course,the rangers said it was hail. Which ever it was, it was frozen water that had fallen from the sky and blanketed the summit in white. I wanted to get a closer look, but did not have the time to drive to the summit, a journey of some 2.5 hours along a winding road that is said to be the steepest highway in the world. Happily for me, the answer to that dilema was at nearby Kahului Aiport - my Cessna 172 named "Manu Mele", Hawaiian for "Song Bird". That's only reason I know the date exactly - it is recorded in my pilot log book.
Flying east from the busy airport at 1500 feet, I headed east along Maui's rugged north shore, and once clear of the airport's control, started to climb. The airport is only 20 feet above sea level, so it would take me about 25 minutes or more to reach an altitude of 12,000 feet, from which height I could get a good view of the snow while staying out of the way of the tour helicopter traffic and above the park's minimum altitude for reducing noise. The temperature at sea level was warm and tropical as one would expect, so the landscape showed the usual lush greens of grass, pineapple farms, palm, mango, breadfruit, and other trees. High up above it was a different story.
Once at altitude, I spent about half an hour enjoying the view and taking photos with my 35mm camera. I flew at times with my side window open to the freezing cold air so that I would not have to shoot the photos through the plexiglass. I later made some enlargements that earned me three ribbons at the county fair that year - one 3rd place, two runners up. The pictures here were scanned from the old negatives which have some scratches, but hopefully convey the idea.
Scanned and reduced as they are, these pictures do not show well the islands in the distance or the shore line of Maui behind the summit. The dramatic contrast of the snow covered volcanic peak against a vast tropical island backdrop of blue ocean and green islands I must leave mostly to your imagination.
Back on the ground, I logged a total flight time of 1.9 hours, well short of the time it would have taken me to drive to the summit one way, and a I got unique view as well.
To see more of Haleakala National Park, which is over 30,000 acres in size, click on the title of this post. Aloha!