Hawaii is known for year-round fragrant trade winds, beautiful sunshine, and occasional rainbows. And while high pressure northeast of the islands will keep moderate to locally breezy trade winds blowing during the next 7 days and generally fair and pleasant weather throughout the state, conditions are a bit hell-like on the Big Island of Hawaii, specifically within the summit caldera of the currently erupting Kilauea volcano, where surface temperatures over 2000 degrees and tornado-like vortexes of hot lava lift up from the surface. More amazing than the volcano is the fact visitors are welcome to explore it, getting a front-row view to Mother Nature creating more Earth.
According to USGS and their Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (KVO), Kilauea volcano is erupting. Eruptive activity is confined to Halemaʻumaʻu crater within Kīlauea’s summit caldera. No unusual activity has been noted along Kīlauea’s East Rift Zone or Southwest Rift Zone. With the eruption confined to the summit caldera, all lava from the volcanic activity is contained within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. With lava not pouring out of the rift zones, where population lives, the eruption isn’t threatening any homes or structures. In fact, it can be safely viewed from the National Park.
In their last published update, HVO reports that multiple minor fountains remain active on the southwestern Halema‘uma‘u crater floor and the vent on the southwest wall of the caldera continues to feed lava onto the westernmost part of the crater floor. Lava fountain heights have decreased since the eruption onset, but remain up to about 30 feet high. Active lava and vents cover much of the west half of Halemaʻumaʻu crater in a broad horseshoe around a central uplifted area. An active lava lake is centered within the uplifted area and is fed by a vent in its northeast corner. This feature is the “western lava lake” from prior eruptions that has been reactivated along with a smaller circular pool just southeast of the lake. The surface of the western lake rose approximately 1 meter overnight, probably due to construction of a levee around the pond. All previously active lava features in the eastern portion of Halemaʻumaʻu now appear to be stagnant.
Earlier in the eruption, HVO scientists observed vortexes form above the lava surface; these hot, rapidly swirling columns of air were grabbing and flinging pieces of lava inside Halemaʻumaʻu crater; eruption temperatures were around 2100°F.
— the Weatherboy (@theWeatherboy) June 13, 2023
The National Park Service is welcoming guests to safely view the ongoing volcanic eruption, but they do warn of some hazards and necessary things people should know or bring. “Expect major delays and limited parking due to high visitation. Parking areas may close unexpectedly when full. Prepare to hike to popular viewing areas from other parking lots. Visit before 9 a.m. or after 9 p.m. for the best experience,” the National Park Service wrote. ” Stay on marked trails and overlooks, and avoid earth cracks and cliff edges. Bring flashlights, warm-clothes, and closed-toe shoes. Do not enter closed areas.”
While lava is contained to the caldera, volcanic gases aren’t. HVO reports that volcanic gas emissions in the eruption area are elevated; a sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission rate of approximately 8,900 tonnes per day was measured Friday, June 10, 2023. Observations from the KPCam on Mauna Loa Strip Road show the gas plume from Kīlauea rising to and remaining trapped beneath the inversion layer at 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level.
“High levels of volcanic gas—primarily water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2)—are the primary hazard of concern, as this hazard can have far-reaching effects down-wind. As SO2 is continuously released from the summit during the eruption, it will react in the atmosphere to create the visible haze known as vog (volcanic smog) downwind of Kīlauea,” HVO warns. Due to the vog, the air quality has been impacted across much of the Big Island of Hawaii, even locations far from the volcano.
Additional hazards include Pele’s hair and other lightweight volcanic glass fragments from the lava fountains that will fall downwind of the fissure vents and dust the ground within a few hundred yards of the active vent. Strong winds may waft lighter particles to greater distances. Residents and visitors should minimize exposure to these volcanic particles, which can cause skin and eye irritation. Other significant hazards also remain around Kīlauea caldera from Halemaʻumaʻu crater wall instability, ground cracking, and rockfalls that can be enhanced by earthquakes within the area closed to the public. This underscores the extremely hazardous nature of Kīlauea caldera rim surrounding Halemaʻumaʻu crater, an area that has been closed to the public since late 2007.
Those wishing to visit the hell-like landscape should observe signs and park ranger advise within the National Park. People should avoid any areas of the park that are closed, be aware of new places closing due to shifts in the wind, and don’t take on additional risks while viewing the volcano.
While conditions on the floor of the caldera are hostile with toxic gas and incredibly high temperatures, the weather conditions in viewing areas around the park are generally fair and temperature. While occasional showers and rainbows come through from time to time due to the tradewinds, conditions are more dry than not inside the park. Such conditions are expected for the balance of this week, making it a good time to observe the erupting lava and the occasional tornadoes of fire it could create when the right thermal conditions are present.