You know what's better than a fireworks show? A dust devil made of lava. You've got to put down whatever you're doing and watch this, because it is spectacular:
There is all sorts of awesomeness going on here. You've got lava flowing pretty much like a river from the fissure to the sea. You've got all that vigorous lava fountaining creating it's own weather:
News from NOAA NWS Forecast Office Honolulu, HI is that thunderstorms are occurring as a result of strong updraft from fissure8 and the lava channel. Type of cloud is pryrocumulonimbus or pyrocumulous, which can form over a small area.
Pyrocumulonimbus?! Yep. It turns out that, just like wildfires, eruptions can create their own thunderstorms! They're also known as flammagenitus clouds. And Fissure 8, our lovely steady fountain, has produced a steady supply of them, as you can see from this USGS Volcanoes Facebook post from May 28th:
#HVO scientists are beginning to observe "pyrocumulus" clouds forming over the#LeilaniEstates fissure system. Also known as "flammagenitus" or "fire clouds", pyrocumulus clouds are formed when intense heating of the air from the ground induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, usually in the presence of moisture (which condenses and forms the cloud). These clouds are interesting to watch, but, like normal cumulus clouds, can also form thunderstorms.
These clouds are most often seen above forest fires or associated with large explosive eruptions, but apparently they can occur over fissures too! This photo shows a pyrocumulus cloud forming over fissure 8, and a similar cloud was observed over the Lower East Rift Zone yesterday (May 27) from upper Waiakeauka. The cloud was described as "tightly roiling and set apart from other stratus clouds", and estimated to have risen to 6 km (3.7 mi).
Now, anyone who's ever been around for a thunderstorm knows that with cumulonimbus comes downdrafts, wind shear, and all of the other ingredients that make for tornadoes and dust devils. And you may remember from those wild weather programs that dust devils over a fire will make what's called a fire whirl, which is one of the most wicked things I've ever witnessed nature produce:
Known as fire devils, fire tornadoes and even 'firenados', they can come in different sizes and intensities, and are formed in different ways depending on environmental conditions.
Most commonly, fire whirls occur when hot, strong winds, often whipping through trees, come into contact with already raging bushfires. Updraughts of hot air catch the fire and surrounding winds send it whirling into the air, sucking up debris and flammable gases.
Which looks like this:
And that's frickin' terrifying, honestly, but it's not quite as awe-inspiring as the fact that these things can form over volcanoes and suck actual lava into their spiral dance!
As if that isn't enough fire work for your 4th of July: this lava whirl (or volcanic fire whirl) isn't the first one Kilauea's latest eruption phase has produced! There was another back in late May, seen and photographed by Honolulu Civil Beat's Anthony Quintano.
These are, thankfully, not tornado-strength whirlwinds – you can only imagine what kind of damage something like that could do plowing through a river of lava! But these small twisters aren't super whimpy, either. I've watched one (happily lava- and fire-free) pick up a metal trough full of water and fling it several dozen feet across a paddock. When you watch the USGS video, you can see it lifting and flinging heavy molten rock with abandon. If you end up in a situation where you get to witness one, get out of its path before you shoot the video of a lifetime!
Happy 4th, everyone. We'll be back soon with more Kilauea goodness. I've been collecting some of the best photos and videos of the eruption so far, which I'll be sharing with you, probably in a huge video slideshow extravaganza, unless I decide on a Fissure 8 Baby Lava Fountain Book instead. Stay tuned!