Sunday, December 6, 2009

Emergency Evacuation of Lava Viewing Area

Sounds dramatic but it was not. I was there. Last night at around 6:30 PM the top portion of the very large lava ocean entry plume turned by gentle winds so that it was overhanging the visitors viewing area parking lot. This was apparently threatening enough for the Civil Defense staff to shut down the entire area; sending about 500 people who had just arrived to see the lava flow, back the way they came.

There was some confusion for all involved. Dozens of people just arriving were running into the tide of hundreds of people having just been asked to leave. Some of the new arrivals were getting grumpy insisting to see the lava after long drives to get there, pushing on out past the too-few County workers. During this scramble the threatening plume-top swung back safely away where it remained. Even county workers were now wondering if the closure call was too quick and thought it could be reversed. But the CD officials in change could not change the evacuation order. By the time I left, the plume and its threatening top were far away, some stars were coming out between rain clouds, and the plume was glowing particularly bright orange/red. A beautiful sight that all but a handful of us vendors got to see.

This morning we, again, have light winds from the south and some volcanic haze –vog- wafting around the southeast and east hills and shores. If this wind direction remains the same by about 3:00 PM today, the lava viewing area could once again be closed to the public,(making that the fourth closure in a row).

The weather forecast does predict a wind direction from light southerly to light northeast later tonight. This is a weak forecast and leaves it vague as to what conditions at the lava viewing site will be so, again, if you are considering a visit to the coastal lava flow it would be a good idea to phone the Civil Defense Lava Viewing Hotline at 961-8093 as late in the day as you can before driving out there.

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