PHOTO BY MAURICE SAKO / COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
Volcanic eruption is fascinating and frightening
HILO » Beauty and beastliness filled the air over Halemaumau Crater yesterday.
Delicate streamers of wire-thin stone called Pele's hair and shiny droplets with gleaming tails called Pele's tears were followed by billows of volcanic cinders that turned the white gas plume coming from Halemaumau to a dirty brown.
"Personally, it's exciting, but on the flip side, it's a little bit intimidating," said Hawaii Volcanoes National Park education specialist Joni Mae Makuakane-Jarrell. Half seriously, she said she thought about turning her car around so it would point toward the park exit.
In the space of less than two weeks, a glowing red spot gushing toxic sulfur dioxide fumes broke out in the crater, blew itself apart, continued spouting, then turned into a sublime, tarnished plume.
With 4-inch blobs of lava spewing inside Halemaumau yesterday for the first time since 1982, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory felt comfortable in calling the event an eruption.
CHRISTINA HELIKER / COURTESY HAWAIIAN VOLCANO OBSERVATORY
This photo taken yesterday shows a close-up view of the ash-laden Halemaumau gas plume.
But it is nothing like the full-scale eruption going on at the same time roughly 15 miles away on Kilauea's East Rift, producing a river of lava that has continued to flow downhill and into the sea.
Could the sputtering and gassing inside Halemaumau turn to a real flow?
"It might," observatory head Jim Kauahikaua said.
But instrument readings gave no hint that such a change was on its way.
Still, the volcanic cinders -- bits of grit -- riding the gas plume as high as a mile above ground were enough for the observatory to warn aviation agencies to keep aircraft away.
And the state Department of Health reissued a warning that people exposed to the sulfur dioxide plume should protect themselves, especially by drinking lots of fluids and staying inside an air-conditioned building if possible.
For the moment, tradewinds remained strong enough to blow the gas away from most populated areas.
The volcano observatory, just a mile from the Halemaumau vent and within easy viewing of it, continued operating with no evacuation. The Jaggar Museum, housed in an attached building, remained closed, and 1.5 miles of park roadway leading to it, plus four more miles of road beyond, remained barred to the public.
And with the enormously explosive Halemaumau eruptions of 1924 in mind, the observatory scientists knew they too might have to abandon their scientific facilities.