Lava Prediction, Saturday – or – ‘The Zen of treating life as an adventure – not a disaster’.

The stalled lava front stopped, but fresh breakouts are being fed from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō.  They have encompassed the stalled front and are continuing to flow – about 900 feet over the past two days but only about 150 feet since yesterday . Whether or not it will continue to flow, and in what direction, is now conjectural instead of the flat “no” I have been saying to this point, although that is still my opinion.

The reason is this:  The flow has never been voluminous.  It moves faster over steeper ground and slows and widens over flatter ground.  But it is still a ribbon flow, not a mass flow.  As it reached more level ground, it widened and stopped, as one would expect.  The flow has moved around the stoppage into a water runoff and has narrowed and deepened – thus allowing it to move faster, but not increasing the volume.  It is following the terrain; not washing over it as we expect with larger flows.

That is not to say the new vent that created this flow won’t become a larger flow at some point in the future.  It almost certainly will.  But THIS flow, at THIS time, is an outlier and certainly an inconvenience, but it isn’t a disaster.  Living on the side of an active volcano is a little like hunting bears.  Sometimes you get the bear; sometimes the bear gets you. The sun still rises in the East.

At this point in time, IF the flow continues, my assessment from yesterday is still valid for flow direction.  There are variables, but lava, like water, takes the easiest path – and the easiest path is where water runoff travels.  If the volume of lava happened to increase and overflow the easiest path, it would continue downhill to the next runoff and follow it until and if it overflowed that.

So you can see the path the lava will likely take simply by correlating the point of the flow to the nearest water runoff.  Those are the lines marked in blue on the topographical map:  http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/maps/uploads/image-140.jpg   and then compare that to the satellite photo:  http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/maps/uploads/image-141.jpg .

Except not always. Because the topo is not a perfect representation of the actual situation on the ground, and lava doesn’t flow exactly like water – more like thick, incandescent concrete.  You can see this a little in the satellite photo because streets have been superimposed on it in black.  For a variety of cartographical reasons, the overlay does not always correspond exactly to the photo.  But it is close enough to show that the lava stays in waterflow areas unless it simply overflows one, and then it goes to the next one.  Gravity always wins.

You can see those areas in the photo because they are darker green in color – indicating that they are more lush because of a more plentiful waterflow.  And you can extrapolate that the lava, at it’s current flow volume, will probably stay within or very near that darker green area.  That puts it across Cemetery Road south of the transfer station and across the Old Government Road south of Apa’a Street. You can follow the vegetation and imagine it crossing Hwy 130 North of the Post Office road.

My FIRST prediction was made when the flow had jumped the stream bed it was following on 6 September and was above Kahoe Homesteads where it sort of puddled and piddled and pancaked and couldn’t decide whether it wanted to go further north or further south and eventually it just stopped.

Now it has a little fresh batter from the vent and it dived right into the stream bed it had been trending toward.  That has allowed it to move again.  It will follow that stream bed very closely if it actually continues to move. If the volume decreases, it will stop. If it increses, it could jump that path and widen to the south.

Earlier in the week I went on a boat and we cruised from Cape Kumakahi to Hilo.  It’s a completely different perspective than an aerial photo.  From the water It looks worse than I think it is.

Anyway… a friend called today and asked if it could reach HPP.  No.  But if this is a precurser to Mauna Loa erupting, like ’83-’84, Mauna Loa can potentially reach HPP, however it’s best path to the sea is through Hilo…or Kona.  🙂