The trade winds are the prevailing pattern of easterly surface winds found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the Earth’s atmosphere, in the lower section of the troposphere near the Earth’s equator. The trade winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere, strengthening during the winter and when the Arctic oscillation is in its warm phase. Historically, the trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world’s oceans for centuries, and enabled European empire expansion into the Americas and trade routes to become established across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
In meteorology, the trade winds act as the steering flow for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic, Pacific, and southern Indian Oceans and make landfall in North America, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar and eastern Africa, respectively. Trade winds also transport African dust westward across the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean Sea, as well as portions of southeastern North America. Shallow cumulus clouds are seen within trade wind regimes, and are capped from becoming taller by a trade wind inversion, which is caused by descending air aloft from within the subtropical ridge. The weaker the trade winds become, the more rainfall can be expected in the neighboring landmasses.
The American state of Hawaii, which covers the Hawai’ian Islands, is tropical but it experiences many different climates, depending on altitude and weather. The islands receive most rainfall from the trade winds on their north and east flanks (the windward side) as a result of orographic precipitation. Coastal areas, in general, and especially the south and west side or leeward sides, tend to be drier.
In general, the Hawaiian Islands receive most of their precipitation during the winter months (October to April). Drier conditions generally prevail from May to September, but the warmer temperatures increase the risk of tropical cyclones.
Island wind patterns are very complex. Though the trade winds are fairly constant, their relatively uniform air flow is distorted and disrupted by mountains, hills, and valleys. Usually winds blow upslope by day and downslope by night. Local conditions that produce occasional violent winds are not well understood. These are very localized, sometimes reaching speeds of 60 to 100 mph (100 to 160 km/h) and are best known in the settled areas of Kula and Lahaina on Maui. The Kula winds are strong downslope winds on the lower slopes of the west side of Haleakala. These winds tend to be strongest from 2,000 to 4,000 ft (600 to 1,200 m) above mean sea level.
The Lahaina winds are also downslope winds, but are somewhat different. They are also called “lehua winds” after the ??hi?a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), whose red blossoms fill the air when these strong winds blow. They issue from canyons at the base of the western Maui mountains, where steeper canyon slopes meet the more gentle piedmont slope below. These winds only occur every 8 to 12 years. They are extremely violent, with wind speeds of 80–100 mph (130–160 km/h) or more.