Over the last few weeks, several people have asked me how I’ve been affected by Kilauea Volcano’s latest eruption in a subdivision in Puna. I’ve been happy to respond that, where I live, I’ve hardly been affected at all.
I live near the northern tip of the Big Island and the current eruption is taking place in the southeast corner of the island. This eruption is also not like the recent one in Guatemala, with a deadly explosive element. Instead, it has settled into a steady, if prolific stream of molten lava, burning buildings in its path on the way to the coast. This behavior makes the direct impact of the eruption a more localized affair. If a person lived in the vicinity of the lava flow path, they’ve probably been forced to leave their home with no indication of when they might be able to return. But for the rest of the island, the lava itself poses no threat. What does affect, not only this island, but also others in the Hawaiian chain, is vog.
Vog, a blend of the words ‘volcanic,’ ‘smog,’ and ‘fog,’ is the result of gases from an eruption reacting with moisture and sunlight. It varies in intensity depending on the output of the volcano and it varies in who it affects depending on the wind.
Vog has been around a while, since the volcano has been erupting, pretty much continuously, since 1983. That 1983 eruption was at the Pu’u O’o vent. Then, in 2008, a new vent opened in Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, within the summit caldera. With two active vents, the vog got noticeably worse. This year’s new eruption has added to the output and also thrown in some ash deposits on areas within range.
The northeast trades are the dominant winds here and when they blow, the vog is blown along the south coast of the Big Island and then up along the west coast. Typically it will reach Kailua Kona, about halfway up, or a little farther north.
Up here on the northern tip the trades blow strong, too strong for many people who find it too windy. But the advantage of those winds is that they keep the vog at bay. Ironically, this past winter, the winds were more variable and we had more vog up here than usual. But since this current vent opened, the trades have been fairly consistent and have kept this part of the island mostly vog free.
Yesterday was an exception. The winds weakened and the vog crept north, which is what the photos are about. The top one, I’ve run before. It shows Hualalai Volcano seen from the water off the north Kohala coast. The bottom photo was taken yesterday from roughly the same area (though without zooming in). Hualalai is gone! That headland is about 400 yards away and I’d estimate that visibility was around 2 miles. I couldn’t even see the horizon. The water just faded away into the vog.
Even when it’s voggy, it doesn’t bother me too much, but some people are more affected. The air becomes acrid and sore throats and noses are common. Luckily, the winds picked up during the day and conditions improved, so we’ll see what happens.