Here's the thing about volcanoes: They're beautiful and fascinating, sure, but they're also chock-full of lethal hazards like lava and poisonous gas. A major increase in poisonous sulfur dioxide gas seeping from the Halema'uma'u Crater at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park forced park officials to formulate an evacuation plan to protect both visitors and locals from the super-toxic fumes.
But locals shouldn't go all Dante's Peak just yet — trade winds and rains have gone a long way to dispersing and diluting any danger posed by the influx of sulfur dioxide. To prevent any chance accidents, the park closed the popular Crater Rim drive, which passes the south caldera and the source of the fumes.
Karen Newton with the Park Service's Pacific West Regional Official said this afternoon that things are "kind of in a holding pattern right now" as trade winds and rains have kept the gases from drifting towards developed areas surrounding the park.
"They're still prepared, but they haven't issued an evacuation order yet," said the ranger.
The upswing in toxic fumes came when a new vent opened on Mount Kilauea's summit March 13, doubling the already elevated levels of sulfur dioxide. Chances for a full-blown eruption are small, but even if it were to happen, Hawaii's volcanoes usually erupt with increased lava flows rather than catastrophic explosions.
"If the summit should erupt, the SO2 levels would fall and then we'd have the greatest tourist destination in the world," said Ranger Newton.
That sounds like an amazing sight...but if it happens, I think I'll just let someone else go first. — Ted Alvarez