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Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Volcano Is Erupting – Should You Change Your Travel Plans?

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The world’s largest active volcano began erupting late Sunday night. Mauna Loa, located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island, covers half of the island and is actively spewing ash and lava from its summit.

lava flows down a mountain

Currently, there are no evacuation orders. However, local authorities did issue an ashfall warning for the Island on Monday and are keeping a close eye on the situation. The U.S. Geological Survey updated the volcano alert level to “warning,” which indicates that “hazardous eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected.” What does this mean for your travel plans?

a view of Mauna Loa in Hawaii, volcano

Check Ahead With Airlines

As the situation at Mauna Loa continues to evolve, Hawaii’s Department of Transportation tweeted out an advisory that airline passengers with flights to or from Hilo International Airport (ITO) or the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) should check ahead for any flight delays or cancellations.

It is not uncommon for volcanic ash to cause flight delays and travel disruptions, so passengers should double-check that flights are on time before heading to the airport.

hot lava fields at sunset in Hawaii

Stay Indoors

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency has warned that during an ashfall warning anyone outdoors should cover their mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the ash particles. Ashfall is known to irritate eyes and lungs and can even cause more widespread effects, such as contaminating local water supplies, sewage, and electrical systems.

Those with a respiratory illness should remain indoors during ashfall advisories, as the air quality is very poor and poses a heightened risk to their health.

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a sign welcomes visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Be Prepared

Mother nature is unpredictable, especially in Hawaii, so be prepared for anything if you are within range of Mauna Loa. During the 1984 eruption, lava flowed to within five miles of the island’s largest city, Hilo. The nearby Kilauea volcano, which is much smaller than Mauna Loa, erupted in 2018 and destroyed 700 homes.

Mauna Loa has some areas that are much steeper than Kilauea, meaning that when the lava does flow down its slopes, it will travel at a much faster rate. So stay alert and be prepared.

lava explodes from the summit ofKilauea volcano Hawaii

Know Where The Emergency Shelters Are

While there are currently no evacuation orders in place, some local residents have chosen to self-evacuate. In response, Hawaii County Civil Defence has opened emergency shelters at the Old Kona Airport in Kailua-Kona and Ka’u Gym in Pahala. If you find yourself close to the eruption, make sure you have an evacuation plan in place.

abandoned wooden house on the lava field of kalapana, kilauea volcano, big island, hawaii islands.

Stay Up To Date

Scientist Ken Hon of the Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory told reporters that the lava flows are not currently threatening any nearby communities, but the scientists are constantly gathering more information so they can properly inform the public. When the eruption began, it was contained in the summit, but the level of threat increases if the eruption migrates to one of the rift zones. These zones are areas where the mountain is splitting apart, and the weakened rocks allow magma to break through more easily.

“We don’t want to try and second guess the volcano,” Hon said. “We have to let it actually show us what it’s going to do and then we inform people of what is happening ASAP.” According to Hon, average Mauna Loa eruptions historically last a few weeks “Typically, Mauna Loa eruptions start off with the heaviest volume first, after a few days, it starts to calm down a little bit.”  

Follow Official Accounts For Updates

Visitors who want to keep updated on any developments should be sure to follow official sources. The USGS regularly updates its website and even has a notification service where anyone can receive live updates from the agency via email. On Twitter, follow @USGSVolcanoes for live photos and notifications. Mauna Loa even has a live webcam you can view online.

Change Plans If Needed

If you were planning on hiking to the summit of Mauna Loa, you obviously need to change your plans. The summit is closed to visitors, and attempts to get a closer view of the eruption could end in disaster. Last month, in response to increased seismic activity at Mauna Loa, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park closed the summit to visitors as a precaution, and it remains closed. If you had your heart set on hiking a volcano during your vacation, consider exploring one of the 14 other volcanoes in Hawaii.

a woman in an orange backpack stands very close to a hot lava flow

But what if you have plans other than summiting an erupting volcano? Should you cancel your vacation? Right now, officials are saying there is no need. Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth has said that there should be little impact on tourism and has pointed out one perk to the current situation:

“… the good thing is you don’t have to drive from Kona over to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see an eruption anymore,” Roth said. “You can just look out your window at night and you’ll be able to see Mauna Loa erupting.”

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