Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted on Sunday night, casting a 30,000-foot steam cloud into the air.

By Rachel Chang
December 21, 2020
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Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into Pacific Ocean along Kapoho coast
Credit: Don Smith/Getty

One of the world’s most active volcanoes is living up to its reputation. Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, which last erupted in May 2018 when it destroyed about 700 homes, started to erupt on Sunday night around 9:30 p.m. local time, according to a tweet from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Volcanoes account.

A steam cloud shot about 30,000 feet into the atmosphere, lasting for about an hour, a National Weather Service official told the Associated Press early Monday.

The county’s Civil Defense Agency asked people to stay indoors. “Trade winds will push any embedded ash toward the southwest. Fallout is likely in the Kau District in Wood Valley, Pahala, Naalehu and Ocean View,” the agency said in a tweet

A red warning alert was also issued by the USGS, indicating, “Major volcanic eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected with hazardous activity both on the ground and in the air.”

Located inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the eruption came from Halema’uma’u crater found at Kilauea’s summit. “Lava contained within the crater illuminates the steam produced by the lava interacting with, and boiling off, the summit water lake that resided in the base of Halema’uma’u crater,” the USGS explained

After the eruption, the USGS reported that a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shook the area, with more than 500 reports of people feeling it, though the effects were believed to be minimal. “At that intensity, significant damage to buildings or structures is not expected,” the agency said.

“[Hawaiian Volcano Observatory] continues to monitor Kilauea as the situation is rapidly evolving with this evening’s eruption at the summit of Kilauea,” the HVO acting scientist-in-charge David Phillips said in a statement last night. “We will send out further notifications on Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes as we observe changes.”

As of 5 a.m. local time on Monday, the USGS Volcanoes account reported, “The main fountain height is ~18 meters (59 feet) and with two other fissures feeds a growing lava lake at the base of Halema’uma’u crater. Volcanic gas continues to travel downwind, southwest of the vents.”

A week ago, a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shook the area around another volcano on the Big Island, centered 12 miles southwest of Waimea on the flank of Mauna Kea volcano, according to the AP. Though Mauna Kea hasn’t erupted in more than 4,500 years, experts believe it could again.