Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Erupts for First Time in Two Years, Prompting Red Warning

Hawaii's Kīlauea volcano has erupted prompting the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to issue a "red" warning for aviation.

The eruption began late on Sunday evening local time within the huge Halemaʻumaʻu crater, which lies at the summit of the volcano.

The USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) detected "glow" within the crater at approximately 9:30 p.m. HST.

"An eruption has commenced within Kīlauea's summit caldera. The situation is rapidly evolving and HVO will issue another statement when more information is available," an USGS/HVO statement read.

Kīlauea, which makes up around 14 percent of Hawaii's Big Island, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Standing at 4,091 feet, the volcano erupted almost continuously between 1983 and 2018.

The "red" color aviation code issued by the USGS means that an eruption is "underway or suspected with significant emission of volcanic ash into the atmosphere."

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Honolulu also issued an advisory warning of the possibility of falling ash from the volcano.

"Web cams and radar data indicate a strong eruption has occurred at Halemaʻumaʻu crater," the NWS advisor, issued at 10:49 p.m. HST on Sunday read.

"Low level trade winds will push any embedded ash toward the southwest, and any ash fallout will likely occur over the Kaʻū district and Highway 11 southwest of the town of Volcano. This includes the communities of Pahala, Wood Valley, Naalehu and Ocean View."

The NWS said people should avoid "excessive exposure" to ash, which is an eye and respiratory irritant.

"Those with respiratory sensitivities should take extra precaution to minimize exposure," the statement read.

Webcams monitoring the summit of Kīlauea captured footage of the eruption, with the images showing a bright orange glow within the crater and smoke rising out of it.

Bill Hanson from Hawaii County Civil Defense told West Hawaii Today late on Sunday that the eruption appears to be "all contained" within the crater, although a plume has been detected rising out of the volcano for about 30,000 feet.

"We're not sure if it contains ash or just water vapor at this time, so tonight we will be monitoring that as well and get back to HVO should we see anything come down in the Kaʻū district," Hanson said.

The USGS also recorded a magnitude 4.4 earthquake in the vicinity of the eruption at around 10:36 p.m. on Sunday, with the epicenter located at a depth of 3.4 miles.

Congressman-elect Kai Kahele of Hawaii's second congressional district tweeted: "Sunday night our home in Hilo got rocked with a 4.4 magnitude earthquake. Halema'uma'u Crater in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has erupted. Just when you thought 2020 couldn't get any worse now we have lava & embedded falling ash to deal with."

Kīlauea volcano hawaii Halemaʻumaʻu
A thermal image shows the Halemaʻumaʻu, a pit crater within the Kīlauea caldera in Hawaii, on December 20 at 23:38 (HST). Hawaiian Volcano Observatory