Hawaiians received a rude awakening on Thursday morning when Kilauea blew its top in the most violent summit eruption yet.
Just after 4 a.m. local time, Kilauea sent ash towering 30,000 feet above sea level, according to the Associated Press. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency warned residents to shelter in place as ash drifted to the southeast.
It was too dark to record the eruption, but the ash was clearly visible on local radar. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) webcams also revealed the aftermath at daybreak. Images show the windows on the observation tower near the summit crater streaked with ash and debris from the eruption. A webcam on the summit of Mauna Loa to the west captured the ash cloud stretching into the sky as the sun rose.
In a tweet posted about an hour ago, the USGS said it would be releasing an official report on the eruption soon. Interest in the volcano has sent people streaming to the USGS website, crashing servers. The USGS now says it’ll post all official updates on Twitter and Facebook.
The ash poses a huge risk to public health, as it is essentially a shards of fine glass. It can also muck up aviation, which is why the USGS issued a red alert for planes flying into and out of the Big Island on Tuesday.
Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone has been bubbling with lava for weeks, but the explosive summit eruptions this week have been on another level. Things started to heat up on Tuesday, when the volcano sent a plume of ash 12,000 feet above sea level that caused the National Weather Service to issue its first-ever ashfall advisory for Hawaii.
The rising risk of these sorts of explosive eruptions is tied to lava. The oozing eruptions in the East Rift Zone have caused the lava lake in Kilauea’s summit to dip more than 700 feet. That drop raises the risk that steam could form as the lava dips below the water table. Steam is a key ingredient for explosive eruptions for shield volcanoes like Kilauea, which tap magma chambers more prone to oozing eruptions than exploding ones.
With the lava lake still incredibly low, it’s quite possible this won’t be the last ash cloud. But just don’t call this another Krakatoa.
Update 3:38 PM: The USGS Hawaii Volcano Observatory has posted an official activity notice for the recent eruption confirming that the ash cloud reached up to 30,000 feet and is migrating in a northeasterly direction. Ongoing emissions from the summit crater are reaching up to 12,000 feet above sea level, per the agency. As for new images and video? They’re working on it.