Haleakala Weather

Volcano, Flora, Fauna & the Future
Haleakala crater clouds

Hawaii may bring to mind the stuff postcards are made of—year-round sunshine, talcum-soft beaches, idyllic, balmy weather—but Haleakalā presents a whole new atmosphere. An uncommon example of a “cold-summer Mediterranean climate” in the tropics, as Wikipedia reports, the summit has an average high of sixty degrees and an average low of forty. This may sound temperate to some but it is, on average, a whopping twenty-eight degrees colder than the beachy town of Kihei that buzzes below.

As for the park in its entirety? As the National Park Service reports, “On any given day, the temperatures in the park can range from a high of 80 degrees in Kipahulu to a low of 30 degrees at the summit. In either area clouds and rain can quickly replace warm sunshine.” Factor in wet, overcast conditions, wind chill, the dry air characteristic of high-altitude deserts, and a trip to the “House of the Sun” can feel like anything but. In other words? Pack smart, should you be paying Maui’s most glorious peak a visit.

 

But is the volcano active?

Is Haleakala an Active Volcano?

Haleakalā’s Dormancy

Haleakalā is considered a dormant volcano—or, in other words, a hulking giant at rest. Carbon dating reveals that it last erupted somewhere between 1480 and 1790; then, a cone on the volcano’s southern side launched lava down to the island’s southern flank.

While Haleakalā may be presently content to sleep, geologists report that it’s capable of erupting again and “scientists are constantly monitoring potential eruption activity,” the Honolulu Star Bulletin reports. Why so sure? “Geophysicist Michael Poland said scientists consider volcanoes to be active if they have erupted since the last ice age about 10,000 to 15,000 years ago,” the Bulletin explains, going on to cite volcanoes that have erupted again after thousands of years of inactivity, including the eruption of Chaiten in Chile. Should Haleakalā erupt again, geologists predict that it’ll occur along the southwest rift zone—the same rift zone that gives La Perouse its dark, saw-toothed appearance today.

Haleakalā Flora and Fauna

Climbing to the peak of Haleakalā may require only two and a half hours of driving from Central Maui, but those 38 miles transport travelers into a vastly different universe. Passing through subtropical lowlands, through the gently-sloped hills of mist-tipped Kula, and into an arid, alpine desert, the drive is considered one of the steepest inclines for autos on Earth—and one of the most visually radical.

Such drama is reflected in its flora and fauna. While the lion’s share of vegetation one sees before the 7,000-foot mark was imported to the island, most of the plants above this grade—nothing if not robust in the harsh climate—are endemic.

Most notable among those indigenous plants is the ‘ahinahina. Better known as the Haleakalā Silversword, this hoary-leaved, alienesque succulent, which looks much like a yucca, thrives on the rises of the volcano, where it lives as long as 90 years and dies in a theatrical demise with a single bloom of crimson flowers and a scattering of its seeds to ensure propagation. Once rampant throughout Haleakalā, the fragile, endangered plant, having faced decades of annihilation from grazing animals and visitors tearing them up from the ground, now relies on park management to keep them flourishing. (Junior silverswords are now being cultivated in park greenhouses “to supplement wild populations,” the National Park Service reports). Other remarkable beauties include the naenae (a tender flowering shrub), the akala (or raspberry), and the green silversword.

Haleakalā’s fauna is just as exquisite. A United Nations Biosphere Park, the magnificent volcano is the literal stomping grounds of Hawaii’s State Bird, the nene—a goose, exclusive to Hawaii, that feasts on leaves and grass and is known for its idiosyncratic walk and soft call (which gave it its Hawaiian name). Haleakalā also caters to the iiwi—a honeycreeper—the pueo, or owl (which goes down as more than one’s amakua, or spiritual animal), the ‘u’au, or Hawaiian petrel, and the ‘ope’ape’a, or Hawaiian bat—Hawaii’s only endemic land mammal.

Haleakalā’s Future

The Pacific Plate—the largest tectonic plate on the planet—is believed to move northwest 10cm a year. While that may sound like a turtle’s pace of astounding proportions, the effect of this will one day have an enormous impact on the Hawaiian Islands. As the National Park Service explains, this means that “Haleakalā volcano will eventually be pulled away in a northwest direction, which will break its connection to the hot spot. The volcano will become extinct and erosion will devour it.” (To illustrate this further, consider that the now-extinct volcanoes on Kauai—the oldest island in Hawaii—have eroded considerably in the last five million years, while some of its flanks have collapsed into the ocean.) Ultimately, Maui—and the volcanoes that made it—will disappear with the other Hawaiian Islands into the Aleutian Trench. The good news? It’ll take 80 million years for it to happen.

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