USGS lowers Kilauea alert level a day after fiery eruption at summit crater

After a three-month pause, Kilauea volcano started erupting again at Halemaumau Crater early Wednesday, sending up lava fountains at the summit.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:32 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2023 at 6:24 PM EDT
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - After a three-month pause, Kilauea volcano started erupting again at Halemaumau Crater early Wednesday, sending up lava fountains at the summit as high as 200 feet.

As of Thursday morning, USGS has lowered the alert for the Kilauea volcano to “watch/orange” as scientists say there is no indication lava will flow out of the crater. It was previously raised to “warning/red.”

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory also said initial high effusion rates have declined and no infrastructure is threatened.

Officials added there is currently no threat of significant volcanic ash emission outside of the hazardous closed area within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

At around 4:45 a.m., webcam images showed a glow at the summit, indicating the eruption had begun. Moments later, images showed fissures at the base of the crater, generating lava flows on the surface of the crater flow.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said by about 4 p.m., 32 feet of new lava had been added to the crater floor. While fountain heights were decreasing, geologists were still seeing some that topped 30 feet.

The good news: The lava is contained to Halemaumau and does not pose a threat to the public.

“So this does not seem to be developing the way the 2018 eruption had obviously,” said Adam Weintraub, communication director for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, referring to the Kilauea eruption in Puna.

“They’re keeping a close eye outside the caldera toward the rift zones, but at this point, it looked like the lava was contained within the summit and within the crater itself.”

However, officials are concerned about the potential for vog and ashfall.

The National Weather Service said “very light ashfall” was a possibility for Puna, Kau and South Kona districts.

Hawaii Island Mayor Mitch Roth said the county is not opening its emergency operations center given that the activity is contained to the summit crater, but he added that gas emissions are a concern.

“Especially on the first day with the gases coming out, the trade winds going down toward Pahala, people with respiratory issues, they have some issues today,” Roth said.

“But all in all, it’s spectacular and a great time to visit the volcano.”

And many visitors agreed. Hundreds were already flocking to the park on Wednesday morning and crowds were expected to grow over the course of the day.

“This is once in a lifetime,” said Tiffany Stubbinngs, of Austin, Texas.

The Faklaris family, visiting from Georgia, shared the sentiment. “It is amazing. We are so blessed to be here and be able to see this. We were so excited when we woke up this morning and saw the alert.”

HVO has raised the volcano alert level for Kilauea from “watch/orange” to “red/warning.”

Scientists said the volcano’s elevated activity started Tuesday evening, with more tremors, ground deformation at the summit and the movement of magma in the subsurface.

“Every eruption’s a little different,” said David Phillips, deputy scientist-in-charge for USGS HVO.

“For the one that happened this morning, we had 65 minutes of precursory activity that we were pretty confident would lead to an eruption in this case.”

Over the past two to three weeks, scientists had been tracking an uptick in seismic activity at the summit. “For the past couple of weeks, things have been elevated, but it wasn’t quite at the level where we saw direct movement of magma towards the surface and we saw that this morning, about an hour before the eruption,” Phillips said.

HVO will continue to closely monitor the situation.

The most recent eruption at Kilauea’s summit began on Jan. 5 and lasted for 61 days.

This story will be updated.