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.”