Spring Break: Surf Kona

Near Kona, Hawaii    

Scenario: El Niño Boils the Pacific
Spring on the Kailua-Kona side of Hawaii's Big Island usually brings thick humidity and low surf. But in El Niño years, trade winds are often pushed south, leaving light breezes and clear skies: ideal beach weather. Plus low-pressure systems generate stronger storms out at sea, sending in swells that line up with the Big Island's reefs. Fly into the Kailua-Kona airport and check into the Kona Sugar Shack (from $150; konasugarshack.com). Then rent a board from Pacific Vibrations (from $15 per day; 808-329-4140) and hook up with Kona-based pro surfer C.J. Kanuha for a private lesson (from $140; cjshawaiianadventures.com). Beginners: Request Pine Trees, a gentle break four miles north of town. More experienced? On a northwest swell, Lyman's point break—off Kona's main road, Alii Drive—is best for longboarding. And if El Niño doesn't deliver? Just head to the end of Alii Drive, to End of the World, a 30-foot lava-rock cliff and your spot for a dive into the Pacific.

What Says El Niño?
The phenomenon known as El Niño is, to oversimplify a bit, the Pacific Ocean regulating her body temperature. This happens in intervals of between two and five years, and the effect is a warming of surface waters in the eastern Pacific. This shifts the jet stream—and its corresponding storm track—south, leading to an upheaval in typical U.S. weather patterns, especially in the Southeast, Northwest, and California. Many meteorologists are predicting a moderate-to-strong effect through May. What's that mean for you? Probably a warm, wet spring in Southern California and drier conditions in the Northwest. (The record-breaking November snowfall in Whistler, British Columbia, was an El Niño anomaly and a strict reminder that predicting the weather is pure folly.) Odds are the late-season powder gods will smile upon the Sierra and, if temps stay cold, the southern Rockies. But the biggest upside? Potentially awesome surf in Southern California and Hawaii, which already saw huge swells in December.

—Jennifer L. Schwartz

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