— Eleanor Roosevelt
Madam Pele is anything but predictable. We feel lucky that we discovered the early hours of Mauna Loa’s eruption by seeing the red glow up the mountain from us. We could see it because the eruption began in Moku‘āweoweo, the summit caldera of Mauna Loa, a little over 13,000 feet. So, many people could see something was going on at that height. Our view from the farm the following two nights, was that the red glow was much dimmer, lower, and diffuse, and had moved a bit northwards. That’s because there’s no longer any active lava in the caldera.
Last night I received a text from a friend that Saddle Road (Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Hwy 200) might close very soon and he and a friend were going NOW. I saw that an hour after he sent it. I wasn’t sure if a possible closure was because of lava or lava viewers. I couldn’t reach him by phone or text.
I googled to find out more about Saddle Road closing and the criteria. What I read was they’d close it when lava reaches about three or four miles from Saddle, and that the closure would be almost 12-20 miles long (I read different numbers than the closure map I saw). And yesterday I had read in the USGS status that lava was 4.5 miles away, so I felt closure was imminent. Originally I was thinking I’d wait until Saturday or later to go, so I could bring our next visitors.
At first it was still hard to overcome inertia, like usual. But I had checked Google maps to see how bad the traffic was, and it didn’t seem too bad (1.25 hours or so). That morning a friend who had gone Monday night reported that there was a lot of traffic, but not a jam. I had tips from her and a photo of what she saw. The mental calculations were, “We drive two hours to go to Volcano National Park to see a little red in a lava lake at a distance. This is shorter, and there will be lava flowing down a big flank. And there’s fountaining.” And if Saddle closes, there could be an amazing flow going on, and it could be really difficult to view it.
Within four minutes we decided, gathered flashlights, camera, binoculars, warm clothes and water, and threw in some chairs and headed out.
It felt like a lava pilgrimage. Yes, there were many cars. It’s a highway with a 60 mph speed limit (which we rarely reached), with one lane in each direction. You are not supposed to pull over on the shoulder. It’s dark; it’s dangerous! And a few people try and cross the highway on foot. You can’t even see them. We passed a vehicle accident with flares on the road, and we pulled over for emergency vehicles coming towards us in response. But there were cars parked in the shoulder anywhere you could see red lava.
Up till the point we reached the electronic sign board explicitly stating not to park on the shoulder between mile posts 16 and 31. $1000 fine. And we could see the blue lights of police cars about every 1/4 mile. At that point, instead of parking on the shoulder, traffic was almost stopped. We just crawled along. I took some photos out the window.
We turned up the Mauna Kea Access Road and drove about a mile up for our vantage spot. You’re driving further away from the flow, but you’re also climbing for a higher view. The photos below were taken around 9:30pm HST on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. With binoculars you could easily see the constant fountaining at the upper part of the rifts. Earlier, that afternoon USGS reported that “fountains at fissure 3 were consistently 40-50 m (131-164 ft) tall and fountains at fissure 4, which formed at approximately 7:30 p.m. HST on November 28, were 5-10 m (16-33 ft) tall.”
From my daily USGS.gov email about Mauna Loa sent today, Wednesday, November 30, 2022, 9:08 AM HST, the first and last paragraphs:
The Northeast Rift Zone eruption of Mauna Loa continues, with two active fissures feeding lava flows downslope. The fissure 3 lava flows are travelling to the northeast, though the direction shifted slightly westward overnight, still moving toward Saddle Road. Fissure 3 is the dominant source of the largest lava flow, and the flow front is about 3.6 miles (5.8 km) from Saddle Road as of 7 a.m. HST this morning. The flows have been advancing at a rate of 0.08 miles per hour (130 meters per hour) over the last day, but they are approaching a relatively flat area and will begin to slow down, spread out, and inflate. Forecasts indicate it may take two days for lava flows to reach Saddle Road.
There is no active lava within Moku’āweoweo caldera, and the Southwest Rift Zone is not erupting. We do not expect any eruptive activity outside the Northeast Rift Zone. No property is at risk currently.
It’s fortunate that the activity is in the NE Rift Zone, because the saddle between the two big maunas doesn’t have any communities or much property. There’s a military training base. With Saddle Rd., many people can easily view the flow. It wouldn’t be so easy to accommodate many viewers anywhere else. The Southwest Rift Zone is the one that would endanger communities. From the USGS Mauna Loa FAQ:
“All of the previous 33 recorded eruptions on Mauna Loa started within Moku‘āweoweo caldera at the summit of the volcano and we expect future eruptions to follow this pattern. About half of the eruptions remain confined to summit area and did not pose a threat to surrounding communities.
However, nearly half of Mauna Loa eruptions have migrated from the summit down either the Southwest Rift Zone toward Hawaiian Ocean View Estates or the Northeast Rift Zone towards Hilo.”
Note the EITHER in the last sentence. Because the eruption is in the NE Rift Zone and not the SW Rift Zone, the powers that be have closed the two shelters they had opened on Monday. I get the impression people’s anxiousness is settling down. Maybe more people than a typical day are filling up gas, and stocking up on food and toilet paper, but I haven’t observed any apparent group panic and hysteria. Mostly we’re sharing our excitement and experiences.
Another observation: Norwegian Boy has gotten soft. Where we were last night it was 53F (12C), and he was really cold.