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HVO: Lava Flow Warning Alert Downgraded

March 25, 2015, 4:33 PM HST (Updated March 25, 2015, 4:34 PM)
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Hawaiian Volcano Observatory downgraded the June 27 lava flow alert level from Warning to Watch Wednesday afternoon following inactive downslope flow activity.

The downgrade doesn’t mean the threat of lava is over. Lava continues to erupt from the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent on Kilauea Volcano’s East Rift Zone and in the Halema’uma’u Crater at the volcano’s summit.

HVO officials say that the inactivity of the flow areas near Pahoa have reduced the immediate threat that the June 27 lava flow had previously posed, therefore, the decrease in alert level.

“Based on the fact that there is no active lava within any short distance to either homes or infrastructure and the currently active lava, which is back upslope near the main vent, these were criteria that allowed us to reduce the alert level,” said Christina Neal, HVO Scientist-In-Charge.

Lava continues to be active within 4 miles of the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent in four separate breakouts. The lava in this area is being supplied directly from the main lava tube from three different areas.

These breakouts are moving slowly and are either on the previous flow, along the margin of the June 27 lava flow, or are moving over the 2013-2014 Kahauale’a flow fields, according to HVO officials.

Should these breakouts continue to advance at their current pace, HVO estimates that it would be months before it gets within one mile of residential areas.

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The flow paths have proven difficult to predict. HVO, however, made note that should the flow paths that are along the northern margin of the June 27 flow field become dominant, the flow would likely follow the steepest lines of descent. This would lead the flow to the Hawaiian Acres and Ainaloa subdivisions. If the breakouts that were traveling towards the south margin of the June 27 lava flow field become the dominant breakouts, it is likely that those breakouts would run parallel to the East Rift Zone and travel towards the Pahoa area.

While a variety of projections and possible predictions could be made for the active upslope breakouts, it is a difficult thing to predict as community members, the public, and officials have learned from the earlier June 27 lava flow activity.

The tubes that provided the lava that got close to the Pahoa MarketPlace are not expected to be reoccupied. If the tubes became active again, HVO officials warn that the delivery of lava to downslope inactive portions of the flow could happen quickly, in the course of a few weeks.

“I think it is fair to say that the breakouts happening in the upper 4 miles of the flow field mean that the tube system is not functioning. It’s unable to contain the lava below that four mile mark,” Neal said.

HVO made the downgrade of the alert level based on the current flow activity. If things were to change, the level would be reassessed and adjusted quickly.

Despite the change in alert level, monitoring and awareness will continue by both HVO and Hawai’i County Civil Defense

Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said Wednesday afternoon that the change in the alert level of the lava flow means that the Civil Defense agency may also have the opportunity to cut back on overflights. Oliveira emphasized that HVO’s technology in the field will be a major asset in continuing to track and monitor conditions.

Changes in county operations won’t be adjusted just yet. Oliveira said he has plans to meet with Mayor Billy Kenoi to determine the next steps in the county’s assessment of the flow. Oliveira accented that the flow is not over and that resources must be prepared to sustain through the “long haul.”

“The decrease in the threat level is large in-part to the activity being so far from the community that any kind of a change or advancement still provides with sufficient time to take action and warn the community if something is happening,” Oliveira said. “We are going to continue to maintain observations and situational awareness on the flow and make sure the community knows that this isn’t any indication that everything is over. It’s just that were seeing significant change in the behavior that is resulting in a reduced threat.”

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