HILO — Access to parts of lower Puna will improve today with the reopening of Highway 130 between Pahoa and Kalapana.
Highway 130 will reopen to all traffic starting at 8 a.m. It has been closed to all but local traffic at the corner of Highway 132 next to Pahoa High School for the past several weeks due to the current eruption of Kilauea volcano in the lower East Rift Zone, which began May 3 in Leilani Estates subdivision.
Cracks developed in the pavement on 130, which have been covered by steel plates. There had been concerns about gas emissions from those cracks as well as the possibility of fissure development and lava eruption.
“We’ve been continuously monitoring the Highway 130 area since the beginning of the eruption,” Mike Zoeller, a Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologist, said during a Monday briefing. “We’ve been checking whether there is any (sulfur dioxide) being emitted from those cracks. We’ve been checking the temperatures around there. No real change has been observed in several weeks. We’ve been relaying that information to the county, who, based on that information, made the decision to reopen … to all public traffic.”
The state Department of Transportation said the speed limit on Highway 130 in the vicinity of cracks at mile markers 14.4 and 14.6 has been lowered to 25 mph since May 27.
“Even though the situation has stabilized enough to allow public access to Highway 130, we are reminding those choosing to travel through the area of speed and parking restrictions that we’ve put in place for their safety,” HDOT Director Jade Butay said in a written statement.
The speed limit along Highway 130 from the intersection of Highway 132 to Kamaili Road/Opihikao Drive has been reduced to 35 mph, and temporary “no parking” signs have also been installed near Leilani Estates at the request of the county.
In addition, Highway 137 will reopen today from Highway 130 north to Opihikao Drive.
Kamaili Road and Cinderland Road will be open to residents only.
The county said all businesses in the Kalapana area, including vacation rentals, can resume normal operations. The county had requested a moratorium on vacation rentals in the area.
The reopening of Highway 130 will mean business at usual at Uncle’s Awa Club, better known as “Uncle Robert’s” — a lower Puna gathering place and home to a popular Wednesday night farmers market.
MacKenzie State Recreation Area and the new lava flow areas remain closed, the county said.
Meanwhile, the ongoing output of lava from fissure No. 8, renewed weaker lava activity at fissure No. 22, and a reduction in trade winds caused vog to blanket much of lower Puna Monday. Levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) reached more than 398 parts per million in Pahoa shortly after 10 a.m., according to state Department of Health monitoring data. SO2 levels of more than 5 ppm are considered hazardous.
The air-quality concerns prompted the U.S. Postal Service to suspend mail delivery Monday on routes served by the Pahoa Post Office, and customers were asked to pick up their mail at the Pahoa Post Office. A written USPS statement said mail delivery on the suspended routes will resume when conditions permit.
In addition, there were thundershowers Monday in a small, localized area of lower Puna.
Robert Ballard, a National Weather Service meteorologist said the reduced trade winds and an upper-level low-pressure system north from the islands, plus heat generated by the volcanic activity along Puna’s lower East Rift Zone, created “pyrocumulonimbus clouds” which produced the thunderstorms that started at about 7:40 a.m. Monday and continued through the day.
“Quite a few lightning strikes (are) occurring in these thunderstorms that are repeatedly forming over the same area near Leilani Estates and across lower Puna. Some of them have been rather intense … ,” Ballard said.
Early Monday afternoon, thunder could be heard every few minutes from Pahoa town, but the cloud cover and vog made it difficult, if not impossible, to see the lightning strikes occurring in the lava zone.
Asked if rain coming from the lava-enhanced thunderstorms was acidic, Ballard said he’s “not an expert in precipitation chemistry” — then noted the SO2 and added, “My guess would be yes.”
Trade winds are expected to return today, pushing vog and gas emissions to the southern and western portions of the island.
Zoeller said the fissure 8 lava delta at Kapoho continues to expand, and on Monday was “greater than 500 acres in area … expanding slightly on both the north and south sides.”
“It is spreading within the (Kapoho) Beach Lots and Vacationland subdivisions,” he said. “Some preliminary sonar data from last Wednesday suggest that several flow lobes under the ocean have advanced to depths of about 100 meters below sea level at a minimum, possibly deeper, within 400 meters of the delta edge.”
A community meeting regarding the ongoing eruption is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at Pahoa High School cafeteria.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.