The explosive eruptions continue at the La Soufriere Volcano on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, which is not only dumping a heavy ash fall on the region, but helping electrify the air with vivid displays of volcanic-induced lightning. Burning-hot pebbles are raining from the sky while neighborhoods fill with a suffocating sulphuric gas.
La Soufriere is the only active volcano on the island of St. Vincent in the Caribbean. The volcano rises 3,864 feet above sea level. This week’s explosive eruption is its sixth in recorded history, the others occuring in 1718, 1812, 1814, 1902/1903, and 1949. Several effusive eruptions have also occurred at La Soufriere. In 1979, an effusive phase followed the initial explosive phase of the eruption. In 1971/1972, an effusive eruption created a lava dome that existed until the 1979 eruption.
La Soufriere’s most devastating eruption occurred in 1902; that explosive eruption claimed approximately 1,600 lives. During the last eruption in 1979, the local population was successfully evacuated and no one died.
Fortunately, seismic activity detected at the volcano and signs of an imminent eruption led the government to start evacuating those in extreme danger from the volcano before the eruption began. Evacuations began on Thursday ahead of Friday’s eruption.
Today, explosive eruptions continue, ejecting very large quantities of mass into the air. Much of this mass is coming down as volcanic ash, finely ground rock that is covering surfaces with what looks like snowfall, but is far more hazardous. Ash from volcanoes can be a respiratory and eye irritant, forcing people to upgrade masks they’re already wearing due to the global pandemic to n95 type or better masks.
Volcanic ash, even in small quantities, can do harm on the surface. A light coating on car or home windows can scratch them; great care should be used when removing ash. Ash entering water catchment systems can contaminate their contents, clog filters, and/or do harm to pumps. More substantial eruptions can also impact cars and jet aircraft; the airport at St. Vincent is closed due to the ash fall and aviation in the eastern Caribbean could become hampered by the abundance of ash spreading in the air there. Dangerous, accumulating ash is being reported as far away as Barbados.
The ash in the sky is so dense over Barbados that the middle of the day looks more like the middle of the night in a snowstorm, as ash rains down from the sky.
A “dirty thunderstorm” phenomena continues at La Soufriere Volcano. As hot air and explosive energy lifts volcanic ash into the air, fine rock particles collide, generating an abundance of static electricity within the volcanic plume. As this static electricity builds, it is released in the form of volcanic lightning. Lightning can be seen and thunder can be heard from explosive eruptions at La Soufriere Volcano.
The horror on the ground is being captured in the sky by Earth observing satellites in space. The European Space Agency (ESA)’s Sentinel 3 satellite is providing high-resolution imagery and data of the erupting volcano and nearby areas, giving officials the opportunity to see how the volcano is changing and where the volcanic ash is headed.
Scientists aren’t sure what else is to come from the volcano. The Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies warns, “The volcano continues to be in an explosive phase that may last several days to weeks.”