It’s all relative…

Lately, we’ve been experiencing what passes here for Hawaii winter weather, and quite frankly for the fully acclimatized, it’s been down-right chilly: People wear jackets and sweaters all day long, put extra blankets on the bed at night, drink more hot chocolate, sleep with their socks on, etc.

For example…

I was wearing sweatpants around the house, savored warm saimin, and broke out my windbreaker before I went to the BYU–Hawaii basketball game last night. While I eventually took it off inside the Cannon Activities Center, I was definitely glad I had it on by the time I walked out after the game.

But that’s all part of the “relative” reaction to the weather, because most people in the more frigid parts of the Northern Hemisphere right now, as I write this in early February, would be quite happy to switch their 30–40º (F) or even lower highs for what they would consider our near-balmy 66º low last night.

Still, to us, that felt quite cold . . . then kick in the wind chill factor from our trade winds, and local people start turning off air conditioners, even fans, and closing windows. In fact, on really cold nights sometimes the temperature near sea level drops into the low 50s; and for those Oahu residents who live in, say, Mililani or Wahiawa — with an elevation of about 1,500 feet, it might as well be snowing by local standards.

That’s not even figuring in the people, say, who live in upcountry Maui or Waimea on the Big Island (where it’s cool even in the summer), who are in sight of real snow on Haleakala and Mauna Kea, respectively (they don’t call it Mauna Kea or ‘white mountain’ for nothing): Many of them have heaters and wood-burning stoves, and use them regularly. For example, the ohi’a log fire in that big Madame Pele-themed fireplace at Volcano House (elevation approximately 4,500 feet) near Hale Ma’uma’u in Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island feels especially welcome at this time of year.

Isn’t it interesting, depending on where a person is from or accustomed to, how some can feel cold, others comfortable, and a few perhaps hot at the same time and place. Heck, a lot of people can see this in their own families: For example, all the boys in our family had to sleep with an electric fan blowing right on them all night, while the girls were bundled up in their blankets.

Many years ago when I was a brand-new Mormon missionary in Samoa — which is generally much warmer and more humid than Hawaii, there was a big storm in Pago Pago during which the temperatures dropped for a few hours into the 60s. I remember it felt quite cool to me, all right, but I was surprised to see Samoans walking around in heavy coats.

Years later I went to Tonga during their winter without any cool-weather gear, not realizing how cold it could feel there when the temperatures regularly dipped into the 50s at night: I had to borrow an extra blanket at night and a  sweater for the daytime.

Back in my early Samoa days, before many more months were over, however, I had to make my own acclimatized adjustments. First, a little background: Most Samoans in those days slept with a light sheet that was often the equivalent of two lavalava (sarongs) sewn together along the long edge. I found when I first laid down it was often too hot for even that, but by early morning I would wake up wrapped in my Polynesian-print sheet but still feeling cold . . . so I asked my parents to send me what in those days we called a double-bed “winter sheet” — made from flannel. That turned out to be the perfect solution for me: For example, toward the end of my mission where I had the luxury of an electric fan, I would set the timer on it for three-or-four hours and go to sleep with no sheet . . . but by morning I would have unconsciously reached for my winter sheet and would be all wrapped up in it when I woke in the morning. Then, like kids during the winter on the mainland, sometimes we would stand out in the sun before breakfast to get warm.

Contrast this with one of the last times I went to Samoa: We didn’t have a/c or a fan where we were staying, and I couldn’t sleep all the first night because it felt so hot; or the stories I remember hearing when I was a kid, that people who lived in places like St. George (UT), Phoenix (AZ) or Las Vegas (NV) back before air-conditioning became common used to sleep under wet sheets at night to find relief from the heat. They would sometimes have to get up in the middle of the night to re-soak the sheets, because they would dry out.

This reminds me, and I think I’ve written about this before — even on this blog, of the early air cooler my dad put on our 1952 Pontiac sedan and used when we would drive across the Mojave Desert between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles:

Long before air conditioning was generally available in cars — heaters, yes, although they would blow cold in the winter until the engine “warmed up” — there was this tubular device with a vent on the side that could be hooked through a car window, the device openings facing front and back so air could flow through it as the car moved. It contained a porous material, and we would fill it with water close to the level of the vent into the car. As the car went forward, the wind blowing over the water would be cooled and forced into the car. I remember it definitely felt cooler than just keeping the windows open, but if we filled the tube too high, we would get sprinkled . . . and in any case, the water would soon evaporate and the device had to be refilled, which was a hassle.

Ah, yes, thank heaven for modern air conditioners and heaters when you feel like you need them . . . and even more so that during our most wintry weather here, daytime temperatures are almost always into the perfectly pleasant 70s. Lucky we live Hawaii — just keep those extra blankets handy for a few months of the year.

— Story and photo by Mike Foley (originally published February 4, 2010:
photo from January 2012, Tacoma, Washington)


  1. Second thoughts: Salt Lake City, Utah, where I grew up as a kid, experienced cold, snowy winters — think the 2002 Winter Olympics, and 200-plus-inches of snow at places like Alta and Brighton in the Wasatch Mountains — and hot summers:

    Re the former, the cold didn’t seem to bother kids so much. In fact, I remember going sledding for hours at the hill in Sugar House Park (13th East and about 22nd South), which seemed so much bigger back then . . . and coming home so chilled that my mom would make me soak my hands in lukewarm water, even though I didn’t want to. But I also remember my dad would sometimes have to use a blowtorch to thaw out frozen water pipes, and shovel the snow off the roof so it wouldn’t damage the house.

    Re the latter, my grandparents built a “summer house” about the size of a single-car garage just off the main house, that actually seemed cooler in its namesake season, but was freezing cold in the winter. Later as teenagers, before my parents put in air conditioning, my brother, Larry, got to sleep in the below-ground basement, which was definitely cooler than the rest of the house in the summer, but also much colder in the winter.

    As I’ve indicated before in this blog, all-in-all I prefer living in Hawaii by far, with its occasional “wintry” weather.

Speak Your Mind