Here’s How You Can Prepare for Heavy Vog From Kīlauea Volcano
With tradewinds stalled and sulfur dioxide from the Kīlauea eruption wafting toward O‘ahu, heavy vog may be headed our way. Here are tips for parents of young children and others who are sensitive. They’ll also work for those who haven’t been affected before, but may feel the effects this time.
The first voggy sunset on O‘ahu after the recent kīlauea volcano eruption.
Photo: Don Wallace
The following tips are from the forthcoming August cover story of HONOLULU and include the latest information from the Department of Health; we’re publishing them now in response to the exceptional circumstances.
Vog, a trending topic in the past couple of years as the Big Island eruptions have increased, has moved to the front burner after the opening of a third vent in April. With the tradewinds on pause for the first time since the eruption, we’re about to see just how much sulfur dioxide will be drifting across the ocean, picking up water vapor and becoming an aerosol, thus increasing in particle size before settling over O‘ahu. Because of a lack of monitoring, there’s no way to know; but it could be a lot more than usual.
To prepare, and if necessary ride out the event until the tradewinds return, it’s important to understand that vog itself is not visible. In other words, the haze we associate with vog is a side effect of air stalling over Honolulu and parts of O‘ahu. The haze will certainly hold vog, but vog itself can be present without haze.
The symptoms of vog sensitivity include difficulty breathing, burning eyes, headache (sometimes severe), a metallic taste in the mouth, elevated heart rate and heightened anxiety due to the combination of reactions. For young children, asthmatics, kūpuna and sufferers of respiratory issues, including chronic lung and heart disease, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, bronchitis or cardiac issues, symptoms may move quickly from irritation to considerable discomfort. Medications should be used promptly. Some cases may require medical treatment; patients and caregivers shouldn’t hesitate to contact a doctor.
1. Monitor the wind direction and SO2 (sulfur dioxide) emissions
IMAGE: COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF HAWAI‘I AT MĀNOA
To keep an eye on these two, bookmark the Department of Health’s upgraded Vog Dashboard: ivhhn.org/vog.
Under “Vog and Wind Forecasts” you’ll find the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa VMAP. Here you can check real time sulfur dioxide emissions from the volcano on both Hawai‘i Island and for the Island chain. But a satellite-driven site simply called “earth”—earth.nullschool.net—that is also on the dashboard is even more useful.
Suddenly you’ll be watching the vog riding wind currents in and around the Islands. It’s often possible to estimate when the vog will arrive and depart your side of the island; it’s also quite addictive to watch.
2. Limit exposure
For children and those who are already sensitive to vog, limiting exposure is key. Here are some proactive tips from Dr. Elizabeth Tam, professor and chair of medicine at John A. Burns School of Medicine, and the Department of Health to help you and your children deal with the symptoms as well as the anxiety and stress that can accompany respiratory and other issues:
As soon as the winds start blowing the SO2 from Kīlauea toward O‘ahu or your island, close your windows, including louvers.
Stop or limit any outdoor exposure, especially exercising.
Stop smoking and eliminate exposure to second-hand smoke.
Sleep with air conditioning if you can (on recirculate) and/or use an inexpensive HEPA air filter like this one from GermGuardian, currently $84 on Amazon.com.
3. Create a sanctuary room
Many Hawai‘i houses are based on open-air floor plans and may lack an effective way to close off outside air. If that’s the case and someone in your family (or you) are susceptible to vog, find an inner enclosed room that can be shut off and create a sanctuary space with air conditioning or air filter or both.
4. Follow strategies that flush vog from your body
In addition to limiting exposure to vog, there are ways to feel better by managing and even eliminating it from your system.
You can exercise in a gym with air conditioning; the cardio with clean air will flush your system and you’ll feel much better.
Go to the mall. You don’t have to shop like it’s 1999; just walk around and ask for gelato samples.
Go to the movies. A two-hour blast of heavy air conditioning can work wonders.
Before, during and after, drink lots of water; it flushes your system, including the respiratory system.
If your eyes are burning, use eyedrops.
Take a closer look at vog in HONOLULU Magazine’s upcoming August 2018 issue. Subscribe now.