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Mystery Over Mauna Kea

March 4, 2011

Update 3/8 – Mystery Solved?

KITV4 news posted Susan and Emma’s photos in their Weather Q&A section today along with a statement from Derek Wroe, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu.

Read Derek’s explanation of the “hole punch” in the cloud ring around Mauna Kea here.

Larger versions of Emma and Susan’s photos can be found here.

Original post – 3/4/2011

Early this morning, before leaving Waimea to drive to Hilo, I took a minute to try for a photo of the clouds over Mauna Kea — I could tell it was going to be a dramatic scene when the sun rose a little higher in the sky over the Big Island. After arriving at the Hilo office, I soon saw evidence that I wasn’t the only one watching the clouds over the mountain. The drama had intensified as I was making the Hamakua Coast drive.

The following pictures are all cell phone photos (unfortunately a little dark) taken by me, Susan Chouinard (my supervisor at Clark Realty) and her daughter Emma. Susan’s was the first I saw after arriving in Hilo, so let’s start there:

Mauna Kea clouds

Photo by Susan from the parking lot of Parker Square in Waimea

Mauna Kea is behind the trees in Susan’s photo. Emma’s photo, probably taken at about the same time, shows a nearly perfect hole in the cloud cover right over the summit of the mountain:

Mauna Kea clouds

Photo by Susan's daughter Emma from Mamalahoa Hwy

An hour or so earlier, I had posted this next photo on Facebook from my cell phone. Susan says this must have been just before one layer of clouds disappeared (her explanation, of course, was more technical). Look at the left side of this picture, just above the top of the mountain, to see what the hole looked like an hour before Susan and Emma’s photos:

A littler earlier than the other two photos, from Waimea

Susan posted this a little later:

NOAA GOES West Satellite Image

Susan is a former Navy “weather girl” so she’s looking into the precise reason for this morning’s mysteriously beautiful portal above Mauna Kea and she say’s she will let me know when she gets more information. I’m happy just thinking it was pretty cool.

Updated 3/5: After I posted the photos above, Julie Ziemelis pointed me to another picture taken by Laura Kinoshita near Seagull School at Mauna Lani. This is how the mountain looked from down at the Kohala Coast:

Mauna Kea clouds

Photo by Laura Kinoshita from near sea level on the Kohala Coast

Mahalo Laura for sharing your photo!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 9:07 pm

    Nice post, Cynthia! Photos don’t really justify how dramatic it really was, but you can definitely get an idea. Lots of talk about the “portal” this morning. Once the highest cloud layer above the break cleared, the blue sky seemed more striking than ever.

    • March 4, 2011 9:17 pm

      I liked what your friend said… “a skylight so the gods can see Mauna Kea too.” That’s a beautiful thought. 🙂

  2. March 4, 2011 10:12 pm

    Your photos did an AMAZING job of capturing this event, and your perspective on the island was better than mine. I especially appreciate the satellite photo!


  3. Randall Lee permalink
    March 5, 2011 8:10 am

    I was wondering if who ever took these pics could send me the original file. I will prove to you this a Extraterrestrial Photo. I am a contactee of the ETs who reside on Mauna Kea and have over 500 photos of their ships. I would love to examine these and show you the ships hidden within.

  4. alyssa permalink
    March 5, 2011 10:27 am

    I see the image of a sweet face in three of the photos!! My friend saw this ring from Kailua-Kona, told me about it, and I just missed seeing it. How long did it appear?

    • March 5, 2011 10:34 am

      Aloha Alyssa,

      I was on the Hilo side for the morning, so I’m not sure. Maybe Susan or Laura can answer that? I’ll let them know you asked!

  5. March 5, 2011 11:09 am

    How neat!
    I didn’t see it at all… the summit was completely covered from my viewpoints (my back lanai and office window)…

  6. Bryan Nakamura permalink
    March 7, 2011 11:25 am

    This cloud formation is called “‘Ena” and is associated with rain, which it did…End of last week, there was also a severe weather band approaching from the West end of the chain, the Kona winds switched from West to North and there could have been rotating winds because of the massive size of Maunaloa and Maunakea and inversion…A Hawaiian Kahuna Kilolani teacher taught me. Some would also say that this is a ho’ailona–there was huge Pele action and snow on both mauna last weekend…Mahalo!

    • March 7, 2011 11:29 am

      Hi Bryan,

      Mahalo for your comment. It certainly has been an active week here on the Big Island!

      With aloha,


  7. March 7, 2011 2:27 pm

    It’s a Fallstreak Hole.

    From Wikipedia:

    “A fallstreak hole, also known as a hole punch cloud, punch hole cloud, canal cloud or cloud hole, is a large circular gap that can appear in cirrocumulus or altocumulus clouds. Such holes are formed when the water temperature in the clouds is below freezing but the water has not frozen yet due to the lack of ice nucleation particles. When a portion of the water does start to freeze it will set off a domino effect, due to the Bergeron process, causing the water vapor around it to freeze and fall to the earth as well. This leaves a large, often circular, hole in the cloud.”

  8. March 8, 2011 10:49 am


    Derek Wroe, the lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu weighs in today with this post on KITV4’s website:

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