As the nation's two southernmost states, Florida and Hawaii boast year-round warm weather that attracts tourists in droves, with Florida typically approaching 90 million visitors per year and Hawaii drawing nearly 8 million annually. Although the Sunshine State and Aloha State have climates that compare favorably to the rest of the nation, they are not identical.
Hawaii's Many Contrasts
Despite the perception by many mainlanders that all of Hawaii averages in the low 80s F with little rainfall, the islands consist of a wide range of microclimates. These include tropical rain forests, alpine regions and deserts, in addition to the beaches for which the state is famous. Cooler temperatures are the norm in the volcanic mountains, as is wet weather in certain spots. For example, the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island of Hawaii can reach 5 F or lower on winter nights and are often covered in snow. Kauai's Mount Waialeale is one of the earth's wettest spots, averaging more than 450 inches of rain annually. In most tourist areas, however, the general perception is an accurate one. Balmy breezes, warm temperatures, low humidity and plenty of sunshine are the rule.
The Sunshine State -- Sometimes
Whereas elevations in Hawaii range from sea level to more than 13,000 feet at Mauna Koa, Florida's highest point is 345 feet above sea level. Florida's rainfall amounts and temperatures vary much more than Hawaii's from month to month and are primarily based on time of year rather than amount of elevation. Florida's main weather draw, especially in the state's southern half, is its mild and sunny winters. During the summer months of June to September, humidity soars and precipitation more than doubles in many areas, thanks to frequent thunderstorms. The good news is that the thunderstorms typically occur at predictable times -- in the afternoons and early evenings -- and are brief. Despite its "Sunshine State" nickname, Florida is actually the nation's second-wettest state, behind only Louisiana.
Hawaiian summers typically last from May to October, with an average high of 85 F near sea level. In the winter months of November to April, the average high is 78 F, with temperatures in both seasons about 10 degrees lower at night. Highs of more than 90 F are uncommon, and lows rarely drop below 60 F near sea level. In Florida, winter temperatures are much cooler in the state's northern sections. Near Jacksonville in Florida's northeast tip, normal highs are 65 F and lows are 41 F in January, compared with 71 and 49 F in centrally located Orlando and 75 and 57 F in South Florida's Fort Lauderdale. Summer sees a much narrower range: Normal highs and lows in August are 91 and 73 F in Jacksonville, 91 and 74 F in Orlando, and 90 and 76 F in Fort Lauderdale.
Dodging the Raindrops
Generally speaking, the summer season is drier in Hawaii and the winter season is wetter. However, rainfall varies widely depending on elevation and the island's notorious east-to-west trade winds. Precipitation levels are typically low in coastal areas on the leeward (west-southwest) side of an island, such as a 24-inch annual average at the popular tourist beach of Waikiki. However, annual precipitation averages more than 300 inches in mountains and valleys on an island's windward (east-northeast) side, although these rains rarely include thunder or lightning. Florida's dry season is October to May, with rainfalls averaging from 2 to 3.5 inches per month. During the summer, precipitation averages 6.5 to 9.5 inches per month, with South Florida typically receiving slightly higher totals. Florida's summer storms are often accompanied by spectacular lightning.