Dear friends and family,
It’s wonderful that you are so concerned about my welfare during this latest volcano outbreak. But I’m on the Big Island. It’s called that for a reason – it’s big. As of May 26, about four square miles of residential land has been covered by new lava, on an island that is 4028 square miles. And I live on the north end of Hawaiʻi while Kilauea is in the south, three hours away.
Let’s look at a map. This is the official map showing the different volcanic activity zones on Hawaiʻi (which is the actual name of the Big Island, but we call it the Big Island because it helps people not confuse us with Oahu. Everyone thinks Oahu is Hawaiʻi because that is where Honolulu is – the center of the Universe as far as those on Oahu are concerned. The rest of us are just the “Neighbor Islands.” But actually, the island of Hawaiʻi was the center of the Universe in the days of King Kamehameha. Sorry, I had to get that rant out.)
Back to the map. It is divided into nine zones, with Zone 1 being the most likely to have a volcanic incident (as is happening today) and Zone 9 being the least likely. I live in Zone 8.
It’s been interesting to see our story being covered by every major news outlet, every day for three weeks. The BBC led off with the volcano for several days. But even they got things wrong. They talk about Hawaiʻi as having five active volcanoes. No. We have one extinct volcano (Kohala, the one on the north end of the island), one dormant (Mauna Kea, last erupted 3600 years ago), and three active volcanoes. Hualālai in the west looms over Kona. It last erupted in 1800-1801. When it goes off again, it will certainly affect Kona.
The second, Mauna Loa, is in the middle-south. It is the largest mountain on earth and is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. It last erupted in 1984, though lately it has again been showing signs of unrest. Hilo sits on Mauna Loa’s eastern flanks and has had its share of excitement from past lava flows, with the 1984 flow coming within 4.5 miles of the city.
The third active volcano is the one that has everybody agitated or nonplussed depending on your point of view. Kilauea, on Mauna Loa’s southern flank, has been “erupting” every day since 1983. It sits inside the Volcanoes National Park, which is now closed due to the volcanic activity. Hawaiian culture reveres Pele, the source of the fire in the volcano. In fact, the Hawaiian word for lava is pele.
Hawaii volcanoes are shield volcanoes: very broad with gentle slopes. When the lava decides to move, it (usually) flows slowly enough for people to get out of the way. This is in contrast to stratovolcanoes like Mt. St. Helens which erupt violently in a pyroclastic flow rather than with a flow of lava. A third kind is a dome volcano.
The current situation has two sources of excitement. The fissures in Leilani Estates (latest count is 24), and Kilauea’s summit crater, Halmaʻumaʻu. The fissures or vents are creating the fountains of lava, some hundreds of feet in the air. Since this subdivision is situated on the flanks of the volcano, the lava is also creeping downhill, engulfing cars, houses, roads and anything else in the way. That is a highly local phenomenon, affecting only the immediate area around them. So, no, I cannot see the lava fountains.
The vents are producing sulfur dioxide, the poisonous gas the media is discussing. Yes, the gas is harmful to humans which is why people are using gas masks. It has also killed nearby vegetation that has managed to escape being burned or covered by the vent lava. But again, it’s a local event; I do not need to wear a gas mask. And while some communities farther away from the volcano have smelled the rotten egg odor, Honokaʻa is largely immune from these smells and even vog (volcanic fog or volcanic smog), because the trade winds blow them away from our part of the island.
The Kilauea summit provides more interesting possibilities for far-reaching effects. When it started putting out plumes, my friends again asked, “Are you okay?” Yes. I cannot see the smoke. I cannot feel the acid rain. I cannot see the ash or the refrigerator-sized boulders being hurtled. I cannot hear the constant booms coming from the volcano and the vents. And no, I am not breathing the laze (or lava haze) now that the lava has oozed it’s way to the ocean. I have felt one earthquake out of the thousands that have occurred since May 3. When the news reports that “residents have been asked to evacuate,” they do not mean me or most of the people on this island.
What I and everyone else on the island ARE doing is sending supplies and food to the people who have been displaced from Leilani Estates and adjacent areas. Some have lost their homes to the lava and are starting over from scratch.
Meanwhile, most of the island has not been affected. The skies in Waimea and Honoka’a are so intensely blue (when it’s not raining) that they almost hurts the eyes, with layers of fluffy cloud in front. People tend to their business, go to church and the post office, care for their horses, cows, and goats, buy groceries, cut the grass, pick up their kids from school. Here in Honokaʻa, I enjoy a clear view of the ocean from my yard and we are all abuzz with Western Week. Everything is normal.
Life goes on, except for the sudden drop in tourism, up to a 50% projected for the summer season. This is silly. Now is a perfect time to visit the Big Island. Flights are extra cheap at the moment. Come on over! Aloha.
- To see the vog pattern in the Hawaiian Islands, see Windy.com.
- For air quality, see EPA Air Monitoring Viewer, Kilauea Eruption.
- For Kilauea eruption and earthquake info, see Volcano Discovery Kilauea.
- For photos and lava updates, see the FB page, Hawaii Tracker.
- Update 6/16/18: – A new video released by officials at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park depicts the full timeline of events leading up to the eruptions in Kilauea’s lower east rift zone.
Note I have tried to add references for the photos I did not take myself. But social media does not always make it easy to trace back to the original photographers.
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