Warning and Aviation Code Red Alert Issued For Hawaii

An aviation code red alert was issued by the United States Geological Survey earlier today, Wednesday, May 16, 2018 — as well as an official warning — for Kilauea Volcano Summit in Hawaii, as an ash cloud rises from its crater.

Warning and Aviation Code Red Alert Issued For Hawaii

Red is the highest level of alert to aviation, meaning that either an eruption is forecast to be imminent with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere likely — as is the case currently in Hawaii — or an eruption is underway with significant emission of ash into the atmosphere. Either way, this could mean disruptions are possible in aviation around the big island of Hawaii for the foreseeable future, depending on what happens.

Ash clouds from volcanoes can clog the engines of airplanes and cause them to malfunction — or stop working altogether. According to this article from the World Organization of Volcano Observatories:

Numerous instances of aircraft flying into volcanic ash clouds have demonstrated the life-threatening and costly damages that can be sustained; consequently, civilian aviation authorities and the airline industry actively strive to avoid any aircraft encounter with airborne ash. To help aircraft avoid ash clouds, a universal volcanic alert level system for aviation has been developed as part of the International Airways Volcano Watch, a universal warning system co-ordinated by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN specialist agency. This system uses four colour codes. A universal system is especially suitable for the aviation sector because pilots, dispatchers, and air-traffic controller planning or executing flights over broad regions of the globe quickly need to ascertain the status of numerous volcanoes in multiple countries and determine if continued attention, re-routing, or extra fuel is warranted.

The colour codes reflect conditions at or near a volcano and are not intended to pertain to hazards posed downwind by the drifting ash — all discernible ash clouds are assumed to be highly hazardous and should be avoided. Furthermore, users must be aware that the aviation colour code should not be extrapolated to represent the hazards posed on the ground, which might be quite different.

The official alerts which were issued by the United States Geological Survey included the following statement:

Ash emission from the Overlook crater within Halema’uma’u has generally decreased since yesterday. Although varying in intensity, at times the plume contains enough ash to be gray in color. The cloud is rising an estimated 3 to 4,000 feet above the ground, but altitudes are varying with pulses of emission. The ash cloud is drifting slowly northward from the Kilauea summit and ashfall may occur in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and Volcano Village. Communities downwind may receive ashfall and should take necessary precautions.

Several magnitude 3 or stronger earthquakes occurred beneath the summit today. The earthquakes were at shallow depth and resulted in cracks in Highway 11 near the entrance to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Some facilities within the National Park were damaged as well. The explosive eruption of 1924 at the Kilauea summit was also marked by hundreds of felt earthquakes as magma drained from the caldera.

This special weather statement was issued from the National Weather Service of the United States:

Web cameras and reports from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at Kilauea Volcano Summit indicate occasional bursts of volcanic ash emanating from Halemaumau Crater (19.4N 155.3W). These bursts may be brief and may occur at multiple times. Light upslope winds may carry ash across portions of Kau, Puna, and North and South Hilo Districts up to 10,000 feet. In the event of a more significant eruption, an Ashfall Advisory or Warning may be necessary.

Avoid excessive exposure to ash which is an eye and respiratory irritant. Those with respiratory sensitivities should take extra precaution to minimize exposure.

Meanwhile, more fissures continue to open up in the ground on the big island of Hawaii, spewing strong gases and lava as high as 330 feet into the air; while minor to moderate earthquakes still rock the island.

The lava pool inside one of the craters dropped greater than 1,000 feet; and if it drops below the water table underground, it could cause a massive steam explosion and possible trigger an eruption. An actual eruption of the volcano could potentially result in volcanic fog and acid rain; and launch boulders the size of cars as high as 2,500 feet into the air seemingly effortlessly — only to land randomly as far away as half of a mile. Smaller rocks could become dangerous projectiles which land miles away.

Due to their nature, lava flows cannot be stopped and are extremely difficult to slow down. They can last for a long time, covering and destroying the current landscape — and even creating new land, which is how Hawaii came to exist. Volcanic eruptions and lava flows are not like hurricanes, floods or snowstorms which one can ride out in a matter of hours or days. People have already been evacuated from the imminent danger; and anyone who is currently in an evacuation zone should leave as soon as possible.

Flight Waivers, Delays and Cancellations

Expect possible delays and cancellations of flights as a result of the ash cloud, as the period for travel waivers by airlines has been extended — and may possibly be extended yet again. Keep up to date on the latest information pertaining to the volcanic activity which may adversely affect your travel plans. Better yet, postponing or canceling your trip might be a better option — no matter which mode of travel you plan on taking.

If you have a flight scheduled, your flight may be delayed or canceled — and you may be eligible for a waiver of a fee to change your itinerary. If you are driving in any of the affected areas, watch out for deteriorating conditions and traffic problems — including roads which are closed due to fissures.

Here are four airlines which have issued travel alerts as a result of the volcanic activity in Hawaii:

  • American Airlines has issued travel alerts for both Hilo and Kailua-Kona for Saturday, May 5, 2018 through Sunday, May 20, 2018; and Sunday, May 27, 2018 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.
  • Delta Air Lines has issued a travel alert for Kailua-Kona for Monday, May 7, 2018 through Sunday, May 20, 2018; and Sunday, May 27, 2018 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.
  • United Airlines has issued travel alerts for both Hilo and Kailua-Kona for Friday, May 4, 2018 through Sunday, May 20, 2018; and Sunday, May 27, 2018 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.
  • Hawaiian Airlines has issued travel alerts for both Hilo and Kailua-Kona for Thursday, May 3, 2018 through Thursday, May 31, 2018; and Thursday, June 7, 2018 is the last day on which tickets must be reissued and rebooked travel must begin.

Summary

To be fair, volcanic activity has been occurring on the Big Island for decades — continuously since 1983, to be slightly more precise — so it is not unexpected. That does not minimize the potential danger, as earthquakes and eruptions continue to be possible and unpredictable. For example, a major earthquake registered at a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale — the largest earthquake in 43 years — occurred 16 kilometers southwest of Leilani Estates on May 4, 2018 at 6:32 in the evening Eastern Daylight Time…

…and do not be surprised if the airlines continue to extend the travel waivers as this situation unfolds.

Just the same, be sure to contact your airline or transportation provider for the latest information pertaining to your travels — if they are adversely affected — and please: travel safely.

Lava spattering area from an area between fissures 16 and 20 photographed at 8:20 in the morning on Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Source: The United States Geological Survey.

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