Hawaii Battens the Hatches for Hurricane Lane

A rare storm expected to hit the Hawaiian Islands this week, could cause heavy steam and rockslides on active Mt. Kilauea.

Published 23 Aug 2018, 09:56 BST
A satellite view of Hurricane Lane.
A satellite view of Hurricane Lane.
Photograph by Noaa

Hurricane Lane, a dangerous Category 4 storm projected to hit the Hawaiian Islands in the next 24 hours, could generate white-out conditions around Mount Kilauea, the volcano that has been erupting for months, experts say.

Lane, with sustained maximum winds of 155 mph, is a rare occurrence for the Pacific island chain. The storm formed as a tropical depression southwest of Baja California on 14th August, and was upgraded to a hurricane two days later.

Torrential rainfall is expected, with amounts between 10 to 15 inches, and even as high as 20 inches in localised areas.

As it continues its track to the Northwest, the hurricane is forecast to first impact Hawaii’s Big Island, which has been dealing with another natural disaster for the past few months. Beginning in May, Mount Kilauea spewed ash, steam, and lava, prompting mandatory evacuations. It even reshaped the island. (Related: Why Do So Many People Live Near Active Volcanoes?)

Lane’s impact on the Kilauea volcano will be minimal, but not absent, says Janet Babb, a geologist with the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.

Along the lower East Rift Zone lava flow, rain will likely turn into steam, possibly even generating white-out conditions, greatly reducing visibility.

At the summit, heavy rain could trigger rock slides.

“The crater walls are already unstable due to the earlier earthquake activity and collapses, so heavy rain could further loosen crater wall material, causing rock slides on the unstable slopes,” Babb wrote in an email.

Large swells and dangerous surf conditions will begin to affect the islands starting today, potentially damaging coral reefs.

Cyclones and storms can greatly damage reefs, according to a 1994 NOAA study.

Changes in sea level, salinity, and sedimentation can damage coral in all stages of life. Turbid, murky waters and algal blooms are prevalent after a storm, inhibiting coral growth and recovery, an effect that can last from years to centuries, depending on the severity of the storm.

Extensive damage to coral was recorded in the Atlantic after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

Lane is expected to weaken slightly as it continues its trek into the Pacific, but will still pose a grave threat to Hawaii’s residents and environment.

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