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 Obviously, if you’re reading this a few months from now, the link might be a bit out of date.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?


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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