top of page

Clouds in Paradise

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Aloha all,

What? Clouds in paradise? How can that be possible?

Yes, there are clouds! But on days when the sun isn't out, rain is predicted, or the sun is coming up at dawn or going down in the evening, it is a sky filled with clouds that can really hold your attention just as much as a bright, sun-filled sky that most people usually associate with paradise. In fact, cloudy days contribute to some of the most awesome skies over the Islands as some of our photographs can attest.

On first blush, there’s much more to clouds than you might imagine, especially on Kaua'i. It goes way beyond what you learned as a high school student in science class about ‘high clouds’ between 16,500 and 45,000 feet—Cirrus, Cirrostratus, and Cirrocumulus; ‘mid-level clouds’ between 6,500 and 23,000 feet—Altocumulus, Altostratus, and Nimbostratus; and ‘low clouds’ at less than 6,500 feet—Cumulus, Stratus, Cumulonimbus, and Stratocumulus. And don't forget, there are also those clouds defined as 'special'—Contrails, Mammatus, Orographic, and Lenticular.

Okay, I get it. Most people, especially by my age, have long-since forgotten many of the specific names for clouds and their characteristics. Thus, on the days when you point to the sky and remark ‘it’s cloudy’, 'ōmalumalu, we can simply lump everything under a simple word, 'clouds', to describe the multitude of shapes, heights, colors within that ‘space above, in the firmament where clouds float’, lunaokeao.

As I’m tucked into the office writing Beneath Still Waters, my third Emma Prince Kaua'i Mystery, I've been delving into the 'mystery, magic, and meanings' connected to clouds. Research is always a large component in my writing. I think about what I’d like to see happen in the books and then need to spend time pouring through history, legends, and ‘island magic’, hoping what I find will tie in with the plot for the book.

Kūkulu ka 'ike i ka 'ōpua. Knowledge is built on cloud billows.

I’ve been consulting nineteenth century Hawaiian historian, Davida Malo, and the Hawaiian Dictionary, both of which provide insight into the realm of clouds for this post as well as Beneath Still Waters. I wasn't only interested with how the clouds were used to predict the weather but the way they are observed for ‘signs’ or omens, hō’ailona, that predict something bad is about to happen. For instance, the ‘ōpua, the puffy or billowy cumulus clouds banked up near the horizon, are often used to discover future events by observing cloud omens, which, when Emma Prince is involved, usually means she’s about to embark on a new mystery.

E nānā ana i ka 'ōpua o ka 'āina. Observing the horizon clouds of the land.

With much of my research now complete, I can confirm that clouds, as well as other elements of stormy weather, will, indeed, play a part in Emma’s next adventure. Sorry, no spoilers, except to say that the clouds covering the sky will become exceedingly black, signaling that Kūlanihākoi, a mythical lake or pond in the sky which overflows and comes to earth as rain, is in the clouds, ‘the place whence came thunder, lightening, wind, rain, and violent storms’. And yes, there will also be a wild, tumultuous ocean.

In Hawaiian culture, clouds are considered objects of importance.The Hawaiian terms for clouds are ao and 'ōpua. Ao also translates as any kind of cloud, including 'ōpua, which are specifically ‘high clouds that when wind-blown 'scud' or move along, ka'a.

Clouds are named according to their appearance. If a cloud is narrow and long, hanging low on the horizon, it is ao ‘ōpua, a bunch or cluster. If the cloud is yellowish and hangs low in the horizon, it’s plump, newenewe, a sign of very calm weather. A sheltering cloud is ao ho'omalumalu; a thick black cloud, ao ho'okokoli'i; and a threatening cloud, ho'oweliweli. There are godly clouds, ao akua; billowy or swollen clouds which hang low in the sky, ao ho'opehupehu or ho'olewalewa; rain clouds, aokū; a long, high, or distant cloud, such as a stratus on the horizon, ao loa; thick clouds, ao panopano; thick dense clouds, pālāmoa or pāpalamoa; and cloud banks or clusters, ao ōpū or ao pua'a. If the leaves of the 'ōpua points downwards, it might indicate wind or a storm, but calm weather if pointed upwards.

Clouds are also named for their colors. There are black clouds, ao 'ele'ele; blue-black, ao uliuli; glossy black, ao hiwahiwa, ao polohiwa, or ao panopano; white, ao 'ōpiopio, ao keokeo, or ao kea; purplish-blue, ao pōpolohua; red, ao ula, ao pōhai'ula, ao kiawe'ula, or what was known as ‘red eye ball ones’, ao onohi ula; green-tinged, ao maomao, yellow tinged, ao lena; and clouds with rainbow (‘ōnohi) colors, ao 'ōnohi or ao 'ōnohi ‘ula.

He hō’ailona ke ao i ‘ike ‘ia. Clouds are recognized signs.

A blue-black sky on the western horizon is uliuli, or at sunset, pāuli, which is regarded as a prediction of high surf, kaikoo. There are many ‘signs’ in clouds predicting rain, ena, such as an opening in the cloud, ‘like the jaw of the sword fish’, au; when clouds in the eastern heavens are red in patches before sunrise, kahea; if the clouds lay smooth over the mountains in the morning, pāpala; when the mountains are ‘shut in’ with blue-black clouds, also pālamoa; and young clouds rising from sea level or close to the clouds banks and are as white as steam, ao 'opiopio. An entirely overcast sky, with almost no wind, is called ‘shut-up’, poipu, ho'ohaha, or ho'oluluhi; if the wind starts up with a rolling together, ho'okaka’a; and if the sky is ‘shut in’ with thick, heavy clouds, hakuma.

Luckily, keeping it all straight fell to the ‘cloud interpreters’, nānā ao or kilo lani, those individuals who were able to look at the clouds, see their colors, and know what they were indicting or predicting. This, or course, is where Piakalike, the wise auntie, will again lend her knowledge of such things to help Emma use her mana to ‘see’ or ‘divine’ the ‘signs’ that something is about to happen.


173 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page