March 24, 2009

Alaska’s Mt Redoubt Spews Clouds Of Ash

For the first time in nearly 20 years, the 10,200-foot Mount Redoubt in Alaska erupted five times overnight Sunday, propelling a 9 mile cloud of ash into the air, the Associated Press reported. 

Although residents of the state's most populated city did not witness any falling ash, small communities just north of Anchorage observed bits of falling, fine gray dust on Monday.

In a small 24-hour grocery store located in Willow, a small town just 50 miles north of Anchorage, 56-year old, Rita Jackson, said "It's coming down," as she ran her fingers through a dusting of ash across the hood of car. 

Volcano ash can cause serious health implications, particularly in the young and elderly.  The ash contains fragments of jagged rocks that can injure skin, eyes and breathing airways. The volcanic as is so coarse, it is sometimes utilized as an industrial abrasive.  Those suffering respiratory difficulties are especially vulnerable to ash-related health problems.  Damage to engines in planes, cars and other vehicles also results from the falling ash. 

Nineteen Alaska Airlines flights were canceled Monday due to the ash.  Four in-state carrier flights for Era Aviation were canceled, along with 60 planes, including fighter jets, cargo aircraft and a 747 commercial plane at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage were grounded and sheltered. 

A state senate meeting in Juneau to consider a resolution of accepting federal stimulus funds was postponed until Wednesday because five of 20 Alaskan senators were unable to catch their early morning flight out of Anchorage due to the cancellations. 

The Alaska Volcano Observatory informed the press that the first eruption took place at 10:38 p.m. on Sunday, in the rural area across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula.  The fifth and final eruption occurred at 4:30 a.m. Monday.

The ash cloud was carried by the wind away from Anchorage and toward the small communities of Willow and Talkeetna, located in close proximity to Mount McKinley, the largest mountain in North America. 

Accounts of a quarter-inch of ash in Trapper Creek were reported, and as much as a half-inch at a lakeside lodge close to Skwentna. 

The National Weather Service's hydrometeorogical technician, Dave Stricklan, anticipated very fine ash.

"Just kind of a light dusting", he commented.  He indicated that the majority of the ash probably dispersed immediately, alongside the volcano. 

"The heavier stuff drops out very quickly, and then the other stuff filters out. There's going to be a very fine amount of it that's going to be suspended in the atmosphere for quite some time," he informed.  "The finer ash is going to travel farther, and any ash can effect aviation safety."

Rita Jackson said she tasted something strange on her lips as she was taking a sip of coffee "“ ash.  She experienced other side effects as well.

"My eyes were itching really bad," she said running from the store where she worked to get into her car.  She was in a haste to get home to secure a motorcycle, snowmachine and vehicles under a protective blue tarp.

Last reports of Redoubt Volcano erupting was during a four-month period from 1989-1990. 

The last eruption spat ash 150 miles away into the course of a KLM jet causing its four engines to flame out.  After a scary drop in the air of more than 2 miles, the crew managed to restart the engines and land safely.  The plane needed $80 million in repairs.

The observatory had been closely observing restless activity in the volcano, and in late January of this year, they warned of an inevitable eruption occurring at any time. 

Also, increased earthquake activity within the 48 hours prior to the eruption prompted scientists to raise alert level on Sunday. 

Forty to fifty earthquakes were being recorded every hour on Sunday morning. 

Saturday, a steam plume was observed ascending above the mountain peak about 1,000 feet. 

Observatory geophysicist, John Power, said three seismometers on the mountain were destroyed in the eruption, however seven others remained intact. 

A helicopter flight to the mountain was planned by the observatory crew to obtain sample ash, repair broken equipment and monitor flooding along the Drift River on Monday afternoon.

Patterns in Redoubt's eruption activity from previous accounts indicate the volcano could quite possibly erupt again in the upcoming days or weeks, Power said.

"It's something we need to stay prepared for."


Image Caption: Top vent in the Redoubt summit crater. Courtesy Cyrus Read, Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey


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