Friday, June 8, 2018

The Kilauea Eruption

"Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice."
- Will Durant

The quote above is one that I think of regularly and is perhaps the most important to remember if you work at all in areas related to natural (or in some cases "unnatural") disasters.

During December 2015, we did something highly unusual for someone who's twitter handle is Professor Powder, and took the family to Hawaii for the holidays.  Really, the holiday season is a good time to get the hell out of Dodge, as even if it snows, the crowds in the canyons are quite overwhelming.

For the most part, I disdain the tropics, but I have a soft spot for Hawaii.  You may see it as a tropical paradise, but I see it as a meteorological paradise.  The topographic, precipitation, and ecological contrasts are incredible, especially for a mountain meteorologist.  

The Kilauea Volcano is embedded in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, certainly one of the most fascinating parks in our incredible National Park system.  In 2015, Kilauea was fairly quiet.  A bit of smoke from the crater, with a lava glow visible only at night.  

That has all changed in the past few weeks, as lava flows have devoured neighborhoods in southeast Hawaii.  

As can be seen above, lava from this most recent episode as covered portions of the Leilani Estates, with flows pushing to Kapoho Bay and the coastline just east of MacKenzie State Recreation Area.

This was an area that we visited during the trip.  I recall walking to the Kapoho Tide pools through some beautiful neighborhoods that are now likely gone.  I'm not sure if the tide pools pictured below have been overtaken by this latest lava flow, but I suspect that they have.  

One can argue that southeast Hawaii is an especially vulnerable area, but many of us live in areas where geologic or meteorological hazards can disrupt our homes and lives.  My thoughts go out to the displaced residents of the area.

On the other hand, I think a lot about meteorological hazards and what we will be facing in the future.  I often tell people that our society is not adapted to the climate of the 20th century, let alone the climate of the 21st century.  Water is the agent that delivers many meteorological impacts and the evidence tells us that extreme precipitation events are and will become more intense and frequent and coastlines will become more vulnerable to sea level rise.   Even in the absence of climate change, growth in development in vulnerable areas, such as coastlines, has greatly increased our exposure to flooding and storm surge.  As concluded in a recent paper by Phil Klotzbach in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 

"Unfortunately, the risks associated with more people and vulnerable exposure came to fruition in Texas and Florida during the 2017 season following the landfalls of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Total economic damage from those two storms exceeded $125 billion. Growth in coastal population and exposure is likely to continue in the future, and when hurricane landfalls do occur, this will likely lead to greater damage costs than previously seen."

So, to paraphrase Will Durant, "Civilization exists by geological AND meteorological consent, subject to change without notice."   We have a long ways to go to decrease our exposure and increase our resliliency to natural hazards.  

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