Heavy vog expected in West Hawaii through this week

  • Vog is thick over Hualalai, blotting out the sun rising over the mountain early Monday morning in Kailua-Kona. (Chelsea Jensen/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Eyes sting. Throats grow sore and voices hoarse. Coughs develop, emanating from greater depths within the lungs.

All these symptoms are tell-tale signs that vog is running thick, which it was Monday in Kailua-Kona where it enveloped Hualalai, obscuring the mountain’s peaks and much of its base from sight for most of the day.


Tom Birchard, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said conditions aren’t likely to change until later in the week, with northeasterly trade winds and a restless Kilauea Volcano, as usual, proving the culprits.

The trades, he explained, push the vog plume around South Point where it interacts with thermally generated winds that pull it up into an eddy system off Kona.

“The overall pattern doesn’t change much until we get to Wednesday when the winds get a little more easterly, and that may help the Kona side,” Birchard said.

Such a wind pattern is currently predicted to hold through Friday, while northeasterly trade winds are expected to return Saturday.

Marianne Rossio, manager of the Hawaii Department of Health’s Clean Air Branch, said the pollutants her division measures at its Kona monitoring station — sulfur dioxide (SO2) and fine particulate matter at the size of 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5) — were elevated much of Monday.

Levels were highest in the early morning hours, when PM2.5 hit 41 micrograms per meter cubed at 3 a.m. and SO2 shot as high as .03 parts per million at 5 a.m.

By 4 p.m., however, PM2.5 levels dropped to 16 while SO2 had subsided to .0065.

“Right now, it’s higher than normal,” Rossio said. “If the volcano keeps continuing as it (has) been and the wind patterns are blowing to the Kona area, then you may have elevated levels where you may have a vog situation.”

To provide context, Rossio said Hawaii’s ambient air quality standards consider a PM2.5 24-hour block average of 35 or lower and an annual average of 15 or lower acceptable levels.

According to an ambient air quality sheet from January 2013 available online at www.health.hawaii.gov, state standards consider an SO2 24-hour block average of 0.14 and an annual average of .03 acceptable levels.

The impacts of elevated levels of pollutants on Kona residents vary.

Fred Seeger, a senior citizen living on the island for three years, said he’s limiting his outdoor exposure and running his air conditioner, which allows him to keep his windows and doors shut.

“We’re used to it,” he said. “We live near a volcano. It’s kind of like living near an airport and complaining about the noise.”

Jessica Strickland, a six-year resident, said the vog doesn’t seem much worse than it’s been over the last few months. She added she’s not too concerned about it for either her or her young son, though it’s been a more common topic of conversation in her social circles in recent days.

“They’re not medical people, so I don’t really listen to them,” she said. “But there are people I know who are concerned about it.”

Rossio advised that those concerned follow standard precautions of staying indoors, using air conditioners if possible, keeping needed medicine nearby, drinking fluids and notifying a physician if health conditions worsen.

The Hawaii Department of Education addressed potential air quality issues in a release sent out over the weekend, saying it will monitor air quality and has emergency protocols in place if necessary.

Art Souza, superintendent of the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena complex area, said if air quality deteriorates to the point of emergency action, the DOE would more than likely just close schools down for the duration.

He said he hasn’t heard from any schools in his complex area that air quality is a problem or that any student has needed medical attention due to vog-related issues.


However, he’s still keeping an eye out.

“I’m most concerned about the schools in Honaunau and Hookena because the wind patterns are such that it just is like big funnel through that valley,” Souza said. “We’ve had in times past pretty serious concerns when there were eruptions and the wind shifted, so I’m monitoring that one pretty carefully.”

  1. gary May 8, 2018 5:53 am

    had to leave the big island in 2011 due to youngest son getting sick from the vog, its sneeky kine,bad buggar dat vog…

  2. Aku May 8, 2018 6:06 am

    The new eruption is now
    the biggest contributor to vog. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/69bc04879e896150d0879900ee04b8a77c3ec1c72a339e2c3fde8f24d5604f7a.png

  3. Kona Rose May 8, 2018 7:09 am

    Yesterday was extremely difficult with burning throat, nose, eyes, and bad, nausea, throbbing headache all day long, even just walking to mail box.

  4. Bill Bugbee May 8, 2018 7:20 am

    It’s bad right now, no way of getting around it, with breathing difficulties, watering and stringing eyes as common side effects to exposure and VOG’s primary ingredient, sulfur dioxide (SO2). Keep your windows in the morning.

    The combination of wind speed and direction, inversion layer height, and local terrain lead to a variable distribution of VOG over Hawai’i island, but the Kona area gets more than its fair share of exposure for local residents suffering from various health effects associated with chronic exposure.

    Kilauea Volcano has erupted continuously since January 1983 and based on USGS measurements emits an average of 2,000–4,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution per day, but has been recorded to release up to 12,000 metric tons per day of sulfur dioxide (SO2). The current uptick in eruption activity combined with unfavorable wind patterns isn’t helping matters.

    VOG, primarily sulfur dioxide (SO2 ) and other toxic gases combine with particles emitted by Kilaueu and interact with water vapor to produce an acidic haze, similar in appearance to the bad old days of smoggy and unhealthy skies plaguing large mainland cities.

    There are no localized senors to measure the levels and gas content of Kilauea emissions for residents living north of Captain Cook, leaving Kona residents left to their own senses and physical reactions in living with VOG. Hawai’i Dept. of Health says the air quality this morning for the Kona area air quality is “Good”, maybe it’s just as well we trust our senses instead of DoH.

  5. blunt TrUth May 8, 2018 7:31 am

    Ms. Strickland is, unfortunately, correct. The vog is usually that bad or worse. What’s that about “They’re not medical people, so I don’t really listen to them,” ?? God forbid you trust your own observations.

  6. Du Mhan Yhu May 8, 2018 10:48 am

    Messes up my ocean view, no other effects I ever noticed.

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