For Big Island, new eruption at Kilauea also means return of vog

Published: Dec. 25, 2020 at 8:17 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 25, 2020 at 8:24 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Until last Sunday, skies over the Big Island have been clear of volcanic haze since the end of Kilauea’s 2018 eruption.

But dangerous gases are back at the summit, and “vog” could spread once again with the new eruption.

Prevailing trade winds so far have kept emissions away from the visitors who’ve been streaming into Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to get a glimpse of the eruption.

“Right now we have pretty steady trade winds,” said park spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane. “It’s carrying the plume behind me to the southwest, so it’s not impacting us here at the summit right now.”

But Ferracane said the winds can shift, which could bring hazardous fumes.

“Those wind conditions can change and it can bring very dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide and particulates when the winds are really light, or they switch from the southwest,” she said.

Ferracane said the current eruption is sending out up to 40,000 metric tons of emissions a day.

The University of Hawaii’s Vog Measurement and Prediction Project shows that the prevailing northeast trade winds are pushing a higher concentration of sulfur dioxide toward Pahala and other parts of the south Kau District, with some of the emissions drawn up toward the Kona area.

Those areas were also affected by Halemaumau’s decade-long summit eruption that began in 2008. Then there were more emissions from the eruption in Puna in 2018.

That year, Kamaili Nursery in Pahoa lost many of its orchids to sulfur dioxide from the volcanic activity in the Leilani Estates subdivision.

“Well we lost, basically I’d say about half our crop,” said the nursery so-owner Beverly Tuaolo. “We’re lucky it wasn’t a hundred percent.”

The nursery recovered slowly by spring 2019. Tauolo is watching the eruption closely but says the trade winds should keep sulfur dioxide away from their area.

“It would take a really unusual wind for it to blow in our direction, and in the past we didn’t have that happen very often, so we’re pretty much going to be escaping the effect right now,” Tuaolo said.

Meanwhile, the Park Service is asking Kilauea visitors to wear masks to protect against the coronavirus. But they won’t work against volcanic emissions.

“Everybody is wearing COVID masks, so we have this double threat of not only volcanic hazards but also COVID — but this mask will not protect you from SO2 or volcanic gas,” said Ferracane.

Ferracane recommended that visitors to the park check the park’s air quality web site first before going.

The National Weather Service is already predicting the possibility of some of that vog making its way down the island chain next week, when winds could shift to a more southeasterly direction.

Copyright 2020 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.