The Big Island Flows and Rocks

So, I’ve gotten a few questions from people concerned I might finally be burning in a figurative hell . . . I refer, of course, to the recent (and multiple) lava eruptions in the Leilani Estates area on the Big Island. 

First of all, for them who want to keep abreast of fast-developing events, THIS news station keeps a decent timetable of events. Obviously, if you’re reading this a few months from now, the link might be a bit out of date. 

Second, this is the location of Leilani Estates on the Big Island (right side of the map):

We live in Kailua Kona. As the crow flies, if a crow chose to fly over a couple of active volcanos, we are 75 miles from the current eruption. 

If you click on the link for the news, you might see a blurb about the explosion at the Halema‘uma‘u Crater. Regular readers might remember THIS post from one of those visits there. Again, if the same crow came back and then wanted to fly to the crater, it would face a 50-mile flight. If I were to drive there, I’m looking at roughly a two-hour drive regardless of the two routes I could choose. 

I suspect that at some points things will settle down and there will be another flow that will make its way to the ocean, destroying everything in its path. I might be able to get photos, but I’m not rushing there yet. 

Let me speak a bit about Lava Hazard Zones (HERE and HERE). The US Geological Service breaks up the Big Island of Hawaiʻi into different zones (nine of them) based on the probability a given area is in danger of an active lava flow. The ranking is determined based on historical flows, seismic activity, and the geography of the terrain (when lava flows, it flows downhill). 

Here are two maps from the two links (for them who didn’t click on the links — because if you click when this goes live, you’ll not likely to reach the site; it’s probably swamped):

A quick perusal tells you that Leilani Estates is located in Zone 1. 

These zones are not predictive in the sense that they tell you something will happen there. Think of them as probability maps; it’s not a guarantee that you’ll get lava flowing through your yard, but if lava is flowing, there’s a good chance you’ll be near it. 

Note also that none of those zones have a zero probability; it may be low, but it’s not zero. 

So, when we look at houses, we typically avoid Zones 1 & 2. One, they are at higher risk, but two, you can’t always get insurance for your house precisely because of the higher risk. Or, if you get insurance, it will exclude lava events. Or, if it doesn’t, you’re paying prohibitive premiums. When we look, we prefer at least Zone 3 or above. 

So, why would anyone build in Zone 1 or Zone 2?

Money.

For obvious reasons, building there is a lot cheaper than in parts of the Big Island with higher-numbered zones. You get more land and house for much less cost. You’re essentially gambling, but since were’s talking about geological events, it’s often a decent gamble . . . until, like now, it isn’t. 

Those people (roughly 1,700) had to leave everything and don’t know if they will be able to return to their homes or if their homes will be there when they return. In addition, that lava will now be on the move and no one is sure where it will go. It’s likely it will take out more homes and roads. 

As I write this, I’ve felt two pretty good tremors. That’s right . . . when lava moves, the land shakes, rattles and rolls. 

This next graphic does not include a couple of earthquakes that have hit since I’ve snapped the screenshot from HERE:

The 6.9 magnitude earthquake shook our condo for a good 30 seconds. Everything was moving, blinds were swaying, and the hanging light fixture was swinging back and forth. 

Notice something about that list . . . large earthquakes are not that frequent. But, earthquakes in general are . . . look at the number on the top left of that graphic. 

Yeah, you say, but they are mostly small. Well, normally, you’d be right . . . but not this past week. The frequency and magnitude of the earthquakes were a good indication of impending volcanic activity and authorities have been warning residents of the Puna district to be ready to evacuate. 

The above graphic is for earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater . . . here’s the map I screen-captured at 1:20 pm local time for magnitude 4.0 and greater.

Notice how the frequency increased beginning three days ago, and there have been two more 4.0+ magnitude earthquakes since I snapped that graphic.

Here is the magnitude 3.0 or greater list . . . 

. . . and the magnitude 2.0 or greater list . . . 

So, here’s the thing about earthquakes on an island . . . you have to worry about tsunamis.

A 6.9 magnitude earthquake can — depending on location and depth — trigger a tsunami and we have warnings for that . . . except, this is Hawaiʻi.  

Fully an hour and a half after the 6.9 magnitude earthquake, the Civil Defense sent out a warning about the earthquake saying there is no danger of a tsunami. Not five minutes later . . . 

So, there was a little bit of a tsunami; nothing serious . . . but note the time and the message.

Skeptical me reads that as meaning that had there been a tsunami, I would have heard about it after I would have drowned in it. 

Unlike the first earthquake we experienced while in Kona (HERE), we are now well within the Tsunami Evacuation Zone (prior to moving here we were at a 400-ft elevation). It’s not comforting receiving the notice 90-minutes after the event. 

So, here we are . . . we are relatively safe (except when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis) and in no immediate danger from any flowing lava (unless a number of other volcanos on the island wake up). 

Thanks to all who have asked and I hope this was informative and helpful. 

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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25 Responses to The Big Island Flows and Rocks

  1. Erik Mendoza says:

    I was waiting for your writeup, glad you both are safe :- )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Eddy Winko says:

    Good to hear that you have made a detailed assessment of the situation and that you are both safe.
    I wonder, have they stopped flights into the Islands?

    Like

    • disperser says:

      No. These eruptions don’t throw up ash clouds. It’s more like oozing lava and fumes.

      That said, they have stopped flights over the area of the fissures (helicopter tours, news helicopters, and even drones).

      Like

  3. Thank you for sharing all of this! I was wondering and worrying. Glad you two are safe!
    I know earthquakes having lived in CA for many years. But, I don’t know volcanoes at all.
    Oh, but I’ve seen lava rock in a few states.
    I wondered if I might see a movie entitled “Emilio Versus the Volcano”!
    HUGS!!! :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing all this…if you aren’t in the the middle of the danger zone, it must be fascinating. I’m very glad you are both relatively safe, and knowing your aversion to crowds and traffic, am sure you are content to keep an eye on everything from a safe distance. All I can say is…. WOW!

    Like

    • disperser says:

      It is interesting to observe from afar . . . although, I admit to a certain draw to the area, especially given that people and crowds are leaving there in droves. If it weren’t for the poisonous gas and the danger of fissures opening up right under me, I’d be there with my camera as I’d practically have the place to myself.

      Like

  5. Terry Swartzell says:

    Thanks for the interesting and insightful first hand reporting! Stay safe, my wife and I will be thinking of you and your island neighbors. Terry

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Thanks. Right now, five homes are lost but no lives (that we know of). This, of course, is nothing new as it repeats every 10-15 years or so.

      Part of the charm of the place. Thanks for your good wishes.

      Like

  6. renxkyoko says:

    Oh, darn it. Aaaargh. I hope you have enough candles, matches, non-perishable foods, water bottles, etc ( all for black-outs, just in case ) You two, take care and be safe over there, okay. By the way, do you regret moving there from Colorado? You now live in the middle of vast ocean, within the ring of fire where major tsunamis occur. ” shakes head “

    Like

    • disperser says:

      We have some emergency stuff but none of this is typically at that level. However, if that side of the island slides off into the sea (there’s evidence that happens occasionally), the resulting tsunami would make short work of us (probably 400-500 feet tall if not more) and also damage most of the West Coast. I don’t think a candle would help.

      Here’s some fun reading:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilina_Slump

      Also:
      https://www.livescience.com/25293-hawaii-giant-tsunami-landslides.html

      Like

    • disperser says:

      As for regrets, not typically something I do. At the time, it was the best decision we could make given our requirements. We certainly don’t hate it here and are currently treating it as an extended, multi-year vacation.

      The thing is, no matter where one looks, there are positives and negatives. So, for instance, if we knew right now where’s the best place to live, we’d pack up and go there. Given that we don’t know, this is a better place than most.

      It’s also useless wondering what we would be doing now had we not moved. We wanted to move; we moved. Period.

      Besides, Spam, Malasadas, Loco Moco plus Costco goodies . . . I’m doing fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pied Type says:

    Yikes, I thought you were on Oahu. (I had to check a map before I wrote that.) Happy to read you’re okay, but wish you were farther away. Now I have to worry more. (You can’t talk me out of it; worrying is my specialty.)

    Like

  8. Good info. much appreciated.
    I just found out a few days ago that the island is divided into danger zones just like here with (hurricane) flood maps. So logical, I felt really duh.
    Oddly enough on a minor tv channel stumbled across one of these home buying shows where the couple was interested in low priced housing, seclusion, and off grid living on the island. As you say, it’s a gamble but all some can/want to afford…not sure I would be comfortable with living on the shoulder of a live volcano with smoke rising just over the hill, and perched on stilts over an old lava flow. Interesting though.
    (Hope you do get a look at it all – what an event. Hear good masks with filters are in short supply.)

    Like

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