Friday, September 30, 2011

Finding better circumstances

Every few years our needs and circumstances change, sometimes significantly. A place that was once wonderful for us can become a place that inhibits our growth and happiness. For example, we use to dream about the serenity of living in a pristine mountain area, hours from the nearest city. When we eventually lived in such a place we discovered that we liked shopping and socializing more than watching herds of white tail deer graze in our front lawn. Our desire to find ever better circumstances has kept us moving from one place to another throughout our adult life.

Sometimes we seek better circumstances due to an internal change like a desire for a job change, and sometimes due to an external change like an unpleasant change in the neighborhood. Every time we move it helps us to redefine our current needs and find new circumstances that support us better. Every place we live we discover something new about ourselves and those discoveries have led to a better life.

When we look to improve our circumstances, we try to find a place that is more consistent with the people we have become instead of the people we use to be. We look for synergy in our needs and desires because we have found that many beneficial things gained in a change add up to more than their individual benefits would. In the past we have moved or made changes to our circumstances to get lower housing prices, increase our income, and find a better fit with the social consciousness of a community. Our move to Hawaii allowed us to improve our access to fresh food, get more sunlight, be able to do year-round exercise, and to decrease our costs.

Over time we have created a process to improve our circumstances. First, we list the urgent needs leading to our motivation to make a change. We also list things we already have that we don’t want to lose, to make sure we don’t jump from one situation to a worse situation. That provides us a list of “must haves” and “nice to haves” in our search for a better circumstance. Next we review our assumptions to see if anything has changed or uncover an unexpected opportunity that might exist. Finally, we define what we are willing to do to change our circumstances. From there we start looking, for a new location, job, city, country or whatever change or set of changes we are looking to make. We keep track of everything we find, try to narrow down our options, research, research, research, and then double check all our findings.

We used this process when moving from Hilo to Kona on the Island of Hawaii. We wanted to move to get away from loud college students that moved in next door. We also had less urgent desires of more sunshine and less yard work. We didn’t want to lose being on the island or our close access to fresh caught fish, Hawaii grass-fed beef, and produce from Hilo’s amazing farmer’s markets. We assumed that Kona was unaffordable based on our research in 2006 and 2007, yet we discovered rents had plunged on the west side and upscale condos with awesome facilities were available at half the rent they used to be. We were willing to move from a house to a condo, give up having a garage, add more steps to the front door, pay for moving our furniture, and sign a long term lease. We surveyed the areas we liked along Ali’i drive and narrowed our options to a few complexes. We found that the potential of moving there was synergistic with many of our other desires like being close to a beach and snorkeling, having a pool and gym, being in a secure parking lot and having more shopping choices with substantially cheaper prices. We made a list of our “must haves”, like a washer and dryer and “nice to haves”, like an ocean view. Then we watched the classified ads and sure enough the perfect place appeared and we signed a lease without hesitation.

The declining economic situation in the US has us again working on our list to find better circumstances and reconsider our assumptions about the future of our finances, employability, and cost of living. We plan to preserve our positive circumstances and take advantage of any unexpected possibilities brought about by the huge changes the country is currently going through.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Autumn in Hawaii

Autumn in Hawaii is a completely different experience for us than it was when we lived on the mainland. We use to dread the end of summer because the days got shorter, the sunny skies disappeared, and the farmer’s markets shut down when the growing season ended. The cold rain and high winds made it impossible for us to keep up our outdoor exercise. In Autumn, life became an indoor experience on the mainland as the temperatures dropped and darkness came earlier every day.

In Hawaii, the end of summer brings only slightly shorter days in Kona and more sunny days with less clouds and rain. Kona has a tropical wet summer climate and dry and sunny winter. The local fruit is even more plentiful in the Fall and there is more to choose from at the year-round Farmer’s markets. The visitors are gone and the snowbirds don’t arrive in Hawaii until after Thanksgiving. From mid-September to mid-December, it is off-season in Hawaii and the beaches and pools are noticeably emptier. Instead of colder temperatures, we look forward to waking up to a dry and cool 76 degrees with sunny weather that keeps our Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) away. All year round we can swim and snorkel and take long walks on the beach.

Coffee plant above Kona, Hawaii

Autumn in Kona also means the start of coffee and chocolate harvesting season and festivals to celebrate them. There are also country fairs around the island, a breadfruit festival, ‘Imiloa’s Wayfinders and Navigation festival in Hilo, and music festivals around the island. This year the Ironman championship is on October 8 and the town is already filled with athletes that inspire us to get more fit. Rather than dreading Autumn, we are finding it to be our favorite time in Hawaii with lots to do and an abundance of sun.
Empty Hapuna Beach

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hawaii Island’s climate zone diversity

The island of Hawaii has the climatic diversity you would find on a large continent. The many climates are due to the high elevations of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the persistent northeasterly trade winds, and localized wind circulation that creates micro-climates.

In the 1900’s a climatologist Vladimir Köppen classified the world’s climates into five zones based on temperature and rainfall: Tropical, Arid, Temperate, Cold-Continental, and Arctic. Hawaii island has four of the five the Köppen zones, all except for Cold-Continental. Climatologists have since delineated sub-zones for each of the Köppen zones, and the Big Island has ten of the most common climate sub-zones.
The summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, above the tree line at 9800 feet above sea level (3000 m), have peri-glacial Arctic climates where the soil is permanently frozen. Over 2/3 of the island is in one of the three Temperate zones (zones 7, 8, and 9 on the map) at altitudes below 9800 feet (3000 m). From altitudes of 8000 to 9800 feet (2500- 3000 m) are Temperate zones with cool temperatures and a dry summer. From altitudes of 6500 to 8000 feet (2000-2500m) is a Temperate zone with warm temperatures and dry summers. This zone extends down the slopes of the volcano, on the leeward side of Kohala, and south of Waimea town. From 1600 to 6500 feet (500-2000 m) is a large Temperate zone with warm temperatures and year round rainfall. The towns of Volcano and Waimea are in this climate zone.

The most populated areas of the island, from sea level to 1600 feet (500 m), are in one of the four humid Tropical climate sub-zones with varying amounts of rainfall. The windward side from Hawi to Hilo and Puna to Kalapana has a continuously wet climate with no dry season. There is a small area along the Hamakua coast that is in a Tropical monsoon sub-climate zone with high annual rain fall and a very short dry season. Areas between the windward (east) and leeward (west) sides of the island from Kalapana to Pahala all the way to Oceanview, have a Tropical dry summer climate. Outside of Hawaii, this rare Tropical climate only exists in parts southern India and Sri Lanka.

The Kona coast on the leeward side of the island is the only area in the Hawaiian islands with a Tropical zone that has a wet summer and a dry winter. This dry winter zone extends from sea level to an altitude of 1300 feet (400 m) where the climate changes to continuously wet. Above 1600 feet (500m), the climate changes yet again to warm Temperate, but still continuously wet. Newcomers to Kona expecting the same warm, sunny weather they had during a winter holiday in a Kailua-Kona hotel are often disappointed with the continuous rain at their new house just 1500 feet above Kailua bay.

On the Kohala coast, the huge volcanoes bar the rain clouds and create a desert. Kaiwaihae is the driest place in the State of Hawaii with only about 7 inches (190 mm) of rain a year. At sea level there is a true arid desert with a semi-arid region above it at higher elevations. All the big resorts on the island of Hawaii are located in this desert area guaranteeing visitors a sunny and warm vacation year round. Many visitors come to think that the hot, dry, sunny climate of the resort area is the norm for the island, however only 445 full time residents live in this desert climate zone. Most of the island’s population live in one of the Tropical climate sub-zones that get from 60 to 300 inches of rain a year.

The large differences in weather on the Big Island can be hard to grasp. For example, Phoenix, Arizona, generally considered a desert, gets an average rainfall of 8 inches a year. Eugene, Oregon, about 940 miles away, gets an average of 50 inches of rain a year. These two cities are a thousand miles apart and not surprisingly, are in very different climate zones with a net difference in average rainfall of about 42 inches. In contrast, the “dry” areas of Hilo with an average 130 inches of rain a year are only 60 miles away from the Kawaihae desert area, a difference in average rainfall of 125 inches a year within an hours’ drive. The wetter parts of Hilo at elevations of about 1200 to 2000 feet can get over 280 inches of rain in a year. Within 60 miles, you can choose a site with rainfall close to the amount in Death Valley or rainfall five times greater than the “rainy” Pacific Northwest and everything in between.

You can read more about finding the right climate in Hawaii and other topics helpful to know before buying a home in Hawaii in our new book: Your Ideal Hawaii Home