One side-effect of the Mauna Loa Eruption we almost forgot about struck silently this week. That’s vog. It was a huge problem in Hawaii, but not for years, so we somehow thought it was behind us. Yesterday’s episode proved that to be the wrong conclusion.
Mauna Loa vog traveled as far away as Kauai this week.
Vog did get in our eyes last night and irritated us. This week’s air has been heavy with winds from the south, bringing the Big Island’s vog throughout the Hawaiian Islands chain, even as far as 250 miles away from Mauna Loa. We’re excited about today’s expected return of Hawaii trade wind conditions after a prolonged absence. That will help push the vog away from us.
See the live Mauna Loa eruption.
Hawaii’s smog, or “vog.” What is it?
It is a unique type of air pollution caused by a mix of sulfur dioxide and other gases from the Big Island’s volcanos, in this case, Mauna Loa.
VOG peaked in 2008 and has subsided to very little, with occasional outbursts since then. But now, there’s the Mauna Loa eruption, vog’s latest source.
At the same time, Hawaii tradewinds are gradually diminishing, which results in more opportunities for vog to sneak up the chain. The University of Hawaii at Manoa scientists have observed a distinct decrease in Hawaii’s trade winds over the past 40 years.
Health and Vog
Vog is detrimental to both animals and plants. The pollutant is acidic and can impair respiratory function. It also irritates the eyes, nose, and throat and can even result in headaches. This is worse for children and others with respiratory issues. The long-term effects of Vog remain unknown.
The University of Hawaii has been researching the health impacts of Vog for the past 20 years. At one point, the Big Island received a failing grade for air pollution from the American Lung Association.
Hawaii’s trade winds.
Trade winds in Hawaii blow most of the time. Our natural weather moderator and air conditioning make Hawaii weather unique and generally excellent.
We think of trade winds as coming from Alaska because they are cool and dry (although they also bring blessed mountain showers). You can hear them rustling in the trees as they blow gently from the north and east. These have been called trade winds for centuries, from when cargo ships depended on them for fast movement. And they are the reason you seldom need air conditioning in Hawaii. Many of us prefer no air conditioning and find A/C unnecessary and expensive.
Kona conditions defined.
We’re not talking coffee here. When we don’t have trade winds, either no winds are present, or they blow from the south. We call these Kona conditions. They can occur anytime, and we sometimes associate them with winter storm conditions.
When the Kilauea volcano began erupting back in 1983, Kona winds started bringing Vog up the island chain. Vog makes visibility poor and causes eye and respiratory irritation big time. Vog feels quite like smog with another name. This week, up the island chain, we’ve seen some of the worst vog in recent years.
Will VOG interfere with your Hawaii vacation?
Probably not, as far as we know, based on the current eruption. We suggest checking the vog Dashboard for updates if you have upper respiratory problems. Air conditioning can help but won’t filter out vog. Setting the unit to “air recirculation” or “closed vent” can prevent outdoor air from entering your vacation rental or hotel room.