The welcome sun has returned after a spate of holiday inclemency (so has the vog, yuck), but I loved those winter rains. I wish they'd come again. Sudden, wind-driven squalls that come out of nowhere and swiftly depart. Brisk showers that descend when you're crossing the street and dissolve into misty sparkles by the time you find cover. Nightly downpours that fade into beautiful, blue days.
I was out doing errands one day when one of those sudden cloudbursts came up, drenching a good part of Wailuku and Kahului. The rain vanished as quickly as it came, leaving a rainbow low over Kanaha Pond at 2 p.m. and a high bank of confectionary clouds toward Paia.
In this time of drought, I'm as happy as can be to curl up with a book and listen to the drumming on the roof. One night we stood on the back porch and marveled as the night blooming jasmine released its fragrance into a storm.
The rains gifted our reservoirs and forests and turned the roadside weeds as green as the shimmering emerald slopes of Haleakala, a quality of color unique in the archipelago.
"That's our Hawaii weather," said my mother when I was home in Honolulu for the holidays as I marveled at the unpredictability of the torrents that beat against her picture window and then suddenly blew away.
I don't know anyplace on Earth where there are so many distinct kinds of rain. On Maui alone, according to "'Olelo No'eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings," collected and translated by Mary Kawena Pukui, there are half a dozen.
The late, great Hawaiian ethnobotanist and limu expert Isabella Abbott was named Kauakea, short for Ka ua kea o Hana, "the white rain of Hana," the misty rain that comes in from the sea.
Ka ua ho'eha-'ili o Waiehu, "the skin-hurting rain of Waiehu," is a chilly, pelting rain that I presume haunts the mountains. Ka ua Pa'upili o Lele, is "the Pili-soaking rain of Lele." Lele, which translates as to fly or to leap, was an ancient name for Lahaina, a jumping-off point for visits to other islands. The plains behind town were covered with pili grass - useful, among other things, for thatch - which soaked when the rain poured.
Ka 'Ukiu o Makawao, a rain of Makawao, is one accompanied by a chilly north wind. Then there is Ka ua'ulalena o Pi'iholo, "the reddish-yellow rain of Pi'iholo" (and according to Pukui's dictionary, Haiku). I love this one: Ka ua pe'e pu hala o Huelo, "the rain of Huelo that makes one hide in a hala grove."
I got to thinking, just what are the conditions that make for such interesting rain here? When he drove me to the airport, my brother Drew, a kitesurfer with an obsession for wind, referred me to Pat Caldwell, a fellow kiter and NOAA meteorologist who regularly provides the guys at Kailua Beach with forecasts.
He told me there are two main complexities in Hawaiian topography that lead to sharp changes in the weather from place to place. First are the varied elevations, the intricate patterns of mountains, valleys, lesser hills, sea cliffs, and coastal plains. The second concerns the position of one island relative to the others. "Complex land patterns lead to complex weather patterns."
He said a lot more about solar influences and wind funnels, but that was enough for me. It was an "upper-level, low-pressure counter-clockwise gyre over the islands" that caused rising motion in the cloud layer and produced those wet holiday trades.
I like the ancient Hawaiian understanding better. Rain is Kahiko o ke akua, "the adornment of the gods," an expression of approval.
Sometimes I take rains as omens, particularly the swift-arriving, swift-departing fat-dropped rain of lore, named for the Hawaiian goddess Hina. This is a rain that comes out of nowhere on a clear day and brings blessings. A cloud would sweep over a fisherman at sea, for example, release its heavy droplets, and leave the fish biting.
One afternoon last year I was quite discouraged. I was helping produce a workshop here and thanks to county regulations, very few legal venues were (and are) available. I was at a Kihei Starbucks seeking comfort when a Hina rain swept in, unusual fat drops falling from a blue sky in the middle of the afternoon on Maui's lee.
Somehow I knew we'd find something. In the nick of time, we did.
* Laurel Murphy is a former staff writer for The Maui News whose "Keiki o ka 'Aina" column appears each Tuesday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.