Hawaii officials are warning residents of the Big Island that the world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa, is sending signals that it may erupt.
Scientists say an eruption isn’t imminent, but they are on alert because of a recent spike in earthquakes at the volcano’s summit.
Experts say it would take just a few hours for lava to reach homes closest to vents on the volcano, which last erupted in 1984.
Hawaii’s civil defense agency is holding meetings across the island to educate residents about how to prepare for a possible emergency.
The Big Island is home to about 200,000 people, including comedienne Roseanne Barr, who brought property in 2007 and has been living there in recent years. Oscar-winner actor Matthew McConaughey bought $7.85million home in 2021, but spends most of his time in his home state of Texas.
Molten rock flows from Mauna Loa on March 28, 1984, near Hilo, Hawaii. Hawaii officials are warning residents of the Big Island to prepare for the possibility that the world’s largest active volcano may erupt given a recent spike in earthquakes at the summit of Mauna Loa
Scientists don’t expect the volcano to erupt imminently, but officials are reminding people lava could reach some homes in just a few hours when it does
The volcano makes up 51 percent of the Hawaii Island landmass, so a large portion of the island has the potential to be affected by an eruption, officials said.
They recommend having a ‘go’ bag with food, identifying a place to stay once they leave home and making a plan for reuniting with family members.
‘Not to panic everybody, but they have to be aware of that you live on the slopes of Mauna Loa. There’s a potential for some kind of lava disaster,’ said Talmadge Magno, the administrator for Hawaii County Civil Defense.
There’s been a surge of development on the Big Island in recent decades – its population has more than doubled to 200,000 today from 92,000 in 1980 – and many newer residents weren’t around when Mauna Loa last erupted 38 years ago.
All the more reason why Magno said officials are spreading the word about the science of the volcano and urging people to be prepared.
Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet above sea level, is the much larger neighbor to Kilauea volcano, which erupted in a residential neighborhood and destroyed 700 homes in 2018. Some of its slopes are much steeper than Kilauea’s so when it erupts, its lava can flow much faster.
During a 1950 eruption, the mountain’s lava traveled 15 miles to the ocean in less than three hours.
The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, which is part of the U.S. Geological Survey, said Mauna Loa has been in a state of ‘heightened unrest’ since the middle of last month when the number of summit earthquakes jumped from 10 to 20 per day to 40 to 50 per day.
Scientists believe more earthquakes are occurring because more magma is flowing into Mauna Loa’s summit reservoir system from the hot spot under the earth’s surface that feeds molten rock to Hawaii’s volcanoes.
The temblors have declined in frequency in recent days but could rise again.
Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, background, towers over the summit crater of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island on April 25, 2019
More than 220 people attended a community meeting last weekend that county civil defense officials held in Ocean View, a neighborhood that lava could reach in hours if molten rock erupts through vents on Mauna Loa’s southwest flank.
Bob Werner, an Ocean View resident who didn’t attend the meeting, said it’s wise to be aware of a possible eruption but not to fear it.
He’s not concerned that the neighborhood would be completely cut off, if lava flows across the only road connecting it to the bigger towns of Kailua-Kona and Hilo, where many people do their shopping.
The ‘greater concern is it will be extremely annoying to drive an extra hour or two hours to get the same stuff,’ he said.
Ryan Williams, the owner of the Margarita Village bar in Hilo, said the volcanic unrest wasn’t worrying customers who are used to warnings.
There could still be a heightened sense of urgency since officials have been holding town hall meetings, urging people to prepare.
‘But everything I’ve read or heard, they trying to kind of assure people that conditions have not changed,’ Williams said. ‘There’s no imminent eruption, but just to be alert.’
Lava flows downhill from the crater of Mauna Loa, April 5, 1984, on the island of Hawaii
A multitude of celebrities and the rich and famous have homes on the islands of Hawaii.
Comedienne Roseanne Barr, who brought property in 2007 and has been living there in recent years after finding herself in hot water for tweeting a series of controversial comments about President Obama’s former senior adviser, Valerie Jarrett.
Barr was removed from the reboot of her classic tv sitcom, Roseanne, which was then renamed The Conners.
Barr documents her time in Hawaii on her Instagram account with photos of idyllic scenery, sunsets and time with her family.
Oscar-winner actor Matthew McConaughey also has ties to the Big Island, having bought a $7.85million home in 2021.
McConaughey’s vacation home is located in the exclusive Kukio Beach and Golf Club community, which is situated in the town of Kailua-Kona on the island’s west coast, according to the listing.
However, the Texas native currently spends most of the year at his longtime home in Austin with his wife Camila Alves and their three children.
Comedienne Roseanne Barr, who brought property in 2007 and has been living there in recent years after finding herself in hot water for tweeting a series of controversial comments
Barr documents her time in Hawaii on her Instagram account with photos of idyllic scenery, sunsets and time with her family
Matthew McConaughey purchased a $7.85 million vacation home in Hawaii in December 2021
Alright, alright, alright: The whole property spans 7,000 square feet, while the living space makes up an impressive 5,328 square feet
Magno said his agency is talking to residents now because communities closest to vents likely wouldn’t have enough time to learn how to respond and prepare once the observatory raises its alert level to ‘watch,’ which means an eruption is imminent.
The current alert level is ‘advisory’ meaning the volcano is showing signs of unrest yet there’s no indication an eruption is likely or certain.
Residents in other parts of the island would have more time to react.
Lava from Mauna Loa’s northeast flank could take days or weeks to reach residential communities. That’s because the mountain’s slopes on that side are relatively gentle and because towns are farther from volcanic vents.
Frank Trusdell, research geologist at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, said all of Mauna Loa’s eruptions in recorded history have started in its summit crater. About half of them stayed there, while the other half later spewed lava from vents lower down the mountain.
Lava erupting from the summit generally doesn’t travel far enough to reach residential areas.
Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843. It last erupted in 1984 when lava flowed down its eastern flank only to stop 4.5 miles short of Hilo, the Big Island’s most populous town.
Mauna Loa also has a history of disgorging huge volumes of lava.
Molten rock flows from Mauna Loa, on the south-central part of the island of Hawaii, on April 4, 1984. Mauna Loa has erupted 33 times since 1843. It last erupted in 1984 when lava flowed down its eastern flank only to stop 4.5 miles short of Hilo, the Big Island’s most populous town
In the 1950 eruption, which lasted for 23 days, Mauna Loa released 1,000 cubic meters of lava per second. In contrast, Kilauea released 300 cubic meters per second in 2018.
The earthquakes could continue for a while before any eruption: increased seismic activity lasted for a year before a 1975 eruption and a year-and-a-half before the 1984 one. Alternatively, the temblors could subside and Mauna Loa may not erupt this time.
Trusdell said residents should look at his agency’s maps and learn how quickly lava may show up in their neighborhood. He also urged people living in one of the short-notice areas to pay attention if the summit turns red.
‘All you got to do is look up there and see the glow. You grab your stuff, throw it in the car and drive. Go!’ he said.
They can always go home after if the lava ultimately doesn’t flow into their neighborhood, he added.