It’s happening in our lifetime! Mauna Loa erupts after 38 years

Hubby woke up last night to go pee, and then I coincidentally got up for the same reason. It’s my habit to always glance around outside (see if we left lights on, look at the stars and moon, or see if the sky is cloudy). The sky had a red glow to it. I asked Hubby if he saw it (no, he didn’t look around) and what he thought it was. We went out on our lānai to get a better look and smell. I took the photo used as this post’s feature photo. It’s looking towards the center of the island. The little lights are from two cousins’ houses. We weren’t sure if it was a nearby fire’s glow, or could it possibly be an eruption?! We didn’t smell anything.

Photo taken by Rune at the same time with a better camera, while a car passed by.

It was around 1:30 AM. We checked our phones for news, and Hubby learned about the ashfall advisory, while I searched differently and found that Mauna Loa started erupting at just 11:30 PM. At that time they didn’t yet know much about the flow because they couldn’t conduct aerial reconnaissance at night.

It was exciting to personally discover the eruption in the old fashioned way: observation. I’m glad it happened at night, because we could see something. And it’s a quiet time (which is OK if there’s no danger to communities). It’s also gratifying and reassuring to live in our time of technology and immediately be able to find out up-to-date information.

It’s about 12 hours later now. There had been an ashfall advisory until 10am, but we never saw any ash, nor Pele’s hair. We still haven’t smelled sulfur or smoke.

It all happened differently than I imagined it would. We all knew Mauna Loa was becoming more active. I thought we’d be feeling more frequent and larger earthquakes building up to the eruption. I thought more of the signs that occurred prior to the 1984 eruption would happen, and the media would be reporting it. I thought there’d be a prediction of “any day now.” We’ve been feeling earthquakes, and they’ve been slightly more frequent, but nothing alarming. A smaller, closer one to us can feel similar to a a further, larger one. Earthquakes happen frequently enough that we usually don’t look up the details. Media coverage about Mauna Loa had been building up in September/October. But then Thanksgiving came, and the approach to the end of the year holidays seemed to hold people’s attention. And then it quietly happened.

There are no mandatory evacuations at this time, but two shelters have opened because a number of people in South Kona have been voluntarily evacuating. These are at Kekuaokala Gym (also known as Old Airport Gym, where we volunteered during the mass COVID vaccination effort) in Kailua-Kona and Kaʻu Gymnasium in Pāhala.

If you missed it, I blogged about Mauna Loa and a community meeting by the Civil Defense in the last six paragraphs of my post two weeks ago. I’ll repeat a bit of it here. Here’s the link to the map Mauna Loa Eruption Response Times again. We’re in Honalo, the northern part of that red “South Kona” box (but technically we’re in the southern part of the North Kona District). That blue line there indicates the border where the Mauna Loa and the Hualālai slopes are. We are located just north of that line, on the east/mauka (mountain) road north of that intersection. We were surprised to realize just how close we are to the Mauna Loa slope.

The Hawaii County Volcano Hazards page has a lot of great info, including the USGS map.

This is very exciting, and right now no one and no property is immediately in danger. It’s a huge event that affects all of us on the island. It’s a shared experience of Nature’s awesomeness and power, different than the whole COVID-19 shared experience. We’re all in this together. Our island is very much alive and growing. I couldn’t sleep for maybe an hour or two afterward.

From the USGS site, in contrast to other worldwide volcanic disasters, “fewer than a hundred people have been killed by eruptions in the recorded history of Hawaii and only one of them in this century.” This is not like Iceland’s explosive eruption in the ice-covered summit crater of Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. No lives were lost, but its fine ash was blown by northerly winds over the North-Atlantic Ocean and Europe. In total, about 100,000 flights were canceled, and two million people were affected. And from Wikipedia, “The Mount St. Helens major eruption of May 18, 1980 remains the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.”

Here are some of the questions I’ve received from friends. I’m sharing since you might have the same questions.

Q: How far away are we from Mauna Loa?
A: About 23 bird distance miles. That’s measured using Google Maps from the summit to our farm.

Q: Are we affected by the eruption?
A: Immediately, no. We will be in a loose sense, in that we should be mindful that in certain areas where Mauna Loa’s flank is steep, lava can reach the ocean in three hours. That means the highway could become blocked off. Most of the places we frequent are on the slopes of Hualālai. In that USGS map, it’s the white area on the west just north of the red area.

Q: Is the air smoky with vog?
A: This morning wasn’t too bad, but it’s getting increasingly voggier (written at 1:30pm). The horizon is blurring between ocean and sky.

Q: Did you feel the earthquakes?
A: I felt the one the night before the eruption. It wasn’t long or big enough to concern me. There are always many little earthquakes somewhere on the island. We probably don’t feel the majority of them.

Q: Should we still visit you from the mainland?
A: No need to change plans. Just be prepared for things to be very dynamic. Stay informed. Be flexible. For example, Southwest canceled all flights to Hilo today. Hawaiian Airlines is still flying in/out of Hilo.

Q: If the house is damaged by the volcano, does homeowner’s insurance cover it?
A: It’ll depend on the insurance carrier. This site answered this question after the 2018 damage from Kīlauea.

Q: Are Pele shrines popping up around town? What kind of offerings do people leave?
A: I haven’t seen any offerings around the town of Kailua. I’ve seen many offerings in the Kīlauea caldera. I think this post on addresses this topic very thoroughly.

Q: Are helicopter tours booked up?
A: I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything through the coconut wireless (the grapevine). I’d have to look that up on the web or call, so if you’re interested, I respectfully ask that you check that out for yourself.

2 thoughts on “It’s happening in our lifetime! Mauna Loa erupts after 38 years

  1. Thanks for this great post, Sharlene. The photo is magnificent and worth a thousand words.
    It’s good to know that you and the others on the island are not in danger. May it be so.

  2. It’s AMAZING (as long as you and the people on the island are safe)! Wish it had happened a few days earlier so we could have experienced nature’s power and awesomeness with you guys.

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