Is it Safe to Visit Hawaii During the Volcanic Activity?
Yes, it is Safe to Visit Hawaii During the Volcanic Activity. However, there are some safety protocols to know about and we recommend avoiding the active region of the island.
Kilauea, one of the world’s most active and largest shield volcanoes, is an ever-present reminder of the incredible forces of nature that are constantly at work on the Big Island of Hawaii. This beautiful and dynamic island is always full of surprises and adventure for those who visit. With the recent increase in volcanic activity from Kilauea, many people have questions about how the volcano will affect their visit to the Big Island and if it’s safe to visit Hawaii during this volcanic activity.
Understanding What Part of the Big Island is Affected
The first thing to understand about the current Kilauea eruption is that the majority of the Big Island is not being directly affected by the volcanic activity. The news coverage of this event has been extensive and quite stunning, but has not given a good understanding of the scale. The Big Island is about 93 miles across and just over 4000 square miles in size. The region currently being affected by the activity covers only around 20 square miles, that’s less than 1% of the island! The affected area is in the Puna region, along the volcano’s east rift zone, the same area where the Kilauea flows have been active numerous times over the last 200 years.
Kilauea Has Been Continuously Erupting Since 1983
Another thing to keep in mind is that Kilauea has been erupting regularly for a very long time and the recent activity has actually been continuous since 1983, with periodic times of increased activity. Because Kilauea is a shield volcano, the volcanic activity is a little different than what you typically think of with an eruption. The volcano is constantly pushing lava and gasses out which acts as a release valve for the volcanic pressure, making it much less likely that an explosive eruption will occur. The lava flow rate of Kilauea volcano has been between 250,000-650,000 cubic yards per day, this has increased significantly with the current flow creating a lava river to the ocean. The affected area and the National Park is currently closed until the increased activity settles down, but under typical conditions, this is why a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is so fascinating, you can actually see a volcano at work.
Living in the Path of an Active Volcano
One of the difficult things about the current activity is that the fissures that recently opened and the resulting lava flows are in an area where several subdivisions of homes have been built. From a volcanic risk point of view, the Big Island is divided into “lava zones” with areas that are very likely to have future volcanic activity being in zones 1 & 2 and progressively less active zones having higher numbers. The majority of Puna is in Zone 1-3, with high likelihood of volcanic activity.
It is very difficult to get traditional mortgages and home owners insurance in the more active zones because of the known danger, however the cost of living in this area is significantly less expensive, which leads to more people than you would expect living in the path of the most likely flows. This eruption has prompted evacuations of Leilani Estates, Lanipuna Gardens, and Vacation Land and many homes in these areas have been destroyed by the flows. Many Puna area residents and businesses have been evacuated, and we should keep them in our thoughts and do all we can to help them through these difficult times.
Things to Consider When Visiting Hawaii During the Volcanic Activity
The Rest of the Big Island
The Big Island has more things to do than you could accomplish on several visits due to the sheer size and scale of the island. You can still visit the other areas of the island without being directly affected by the volcanic activity, including; amazing beaches, stargazing from the top of Mauna Kea, zip lining through the jungle, golfing, sport-fishing, kayaking and snorkeling in the pristine Pacific Ocean.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Active Zone
If your primary reason to visit Hawaii is to see the volcano and active flows, then realize that the National Park and the active flow area is currently closed to visitors. As this situation continues to evolve, the Hawaiian authorities will eventually reopen areas that they consider to be safe. Always respect and follow their recommendations and do not venture into restricted zones.
At this point, some boat tours have resumed operations and are taking people to see the flows that have reached the ocean, and some helicopter companies are taking air tours near the active zone. Please realize that this is an active volcano zone and there are risks involved with getting close to the activity. Never venture into the closed areas and follow all safety recommendations closely. Know that while tour companies are doing their best to keep visitors safe, going near an active lava flow is risky because unpredictable forces and constantly changing conditions can create dangerous situations with little or no warning.
Air Quality Information
The slow-moving nature of the flow has generally allowed Hawaiian officials plenty of time to warn and evacuate those in the path of the lava. However, the most direct threat is from the volcano’s gasses, which are affecting the area around the eruption. There hasn’t been a threat of exposure to sulfur gases outside of the evacuation area, but officials said people in the Puna area should evacuate if they smell sulfur.
The primary concern for travelers to other areas of the Big Island is a temporary increase in Vog during these more active eruptions. Vog is different than the dangerous sulfur gas present in the rift zone, it is more comparable to pollution and mostly affects those who have existing respiratory problems and is a minor irritant to others. If the trade winds blow in such a way as to shift the vog across the island, you can see a distinct haze in the air, this can be from moderate to heavy depending on the wind.
Clear Morning(without Vog)
Hazy Afternoon (with Vog)
Resources for Volcanic Activity Information
The changing dynamics of the flow combined with current seismic activity has led to recommendations to avoid the Puna region as much as possible and to follow safety instructions issued by local, state, and federal officials. Here are some links to help you stay in the know:
Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense – Emergency messages and alerts
USGS, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory – Eruption status reports and updates
Interagency Vog Dashboard – Hawaii wide air quality and vog data
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency – Information and news releases