We are now more than two months into this new eruption from Kilauea. Two months ago the fissures opened in the Leilani Estates subdivision and homes began to burn.
For two months this slow motion catastrophe has continued. While a major earthquake may be over in minutes, or a hurricane over in a few days, this eruption just goes on. For the folks in lower Puna the lava continues to destroy homes and disrupt lives.
For those of us outside the eruption zone things are not quite as immediate. We read the daily news, peruse images of helicopter overflights each morning, and wonder when it will be over.
The multiple county civil defense status reports and various emergency alerts that pop up on our phones each day provide current information… A bit of the Mamalahoa Highway has collapsed in Volcano Village with a one lane restriction, the road to Kalapana has re-opened, there is no tsunami threat from that last 5.4 magnitude earthquake.
Every day is punctuated by a magnitude five point something earthquake. These summit collapse events have become very regular. You can guess when they will occur as the frequency of small quakes increase around the caldera.
For the most part these events pass unnoticed by much of the island. The volcano area gets shaken up pretty well, but these fifth magnitude quakes are often not felt very far beyond that.
On the summit of Mauna Kea these daily quakes often do disturb the telescopes at night, bumping the tracking and ruining exposures, but otherwise too weak to cause any damage to the facilities.
The most significant island wide impact has been the vog, wreathing the island in a sulfurous haze. Sulfur dioxide pours from the active vents, mixes with water in the air and forms a thick brown grey haze.
When the vog is bad you not only see it, you smell the sulfur, it irritates eyes and nasal passages. Fire and brimstone reaches out to touch us all.
While the vog makes for spectacular sunsets, the vog can also be thick enough to curtail outside activity. A day like today, with brisk trade-winds to clear it away, is a welcome relief.
Opportunities to legally witness this eruption are few, authorities have been enforcing the evacuation area increasingly strictly. Legal options are the fly or float to the eruption. Deb and I chose to fly a month ago, a helicopter flight I am sure we will remember for a lifetime.
I have not attempted to go to photograph the lava river, despite a very strong desire to do so. The county and state have repeatedly talked about opening a lava viewing area. while there is a great deal of pressure from the community, so far nothing has materialized.
We are so ready for this eruption to be over.
Given the collapse of the summit caldera and the enormous volume of lava emitted so far, it may be possible that when this is over there will be no further eruption for a while. It may take a while for the volcano to recharge, perhaps a year or two. Will we return to the pattern of intermittent eruptions that was seen through much of the 20th century?