The lava has taken off in a new direction–and the path of steepest descent on Hawaii Volcano Observatory’s latest map leads straight to Pahoa Marketplace and the head of the Pahoa bypass.
The new map shows a long, narrow extension of the flow taking off on a more northerly route, while the leading edge that burned one house, nearly inundated the transfer station and threatened Old Government Road (Pahoa Village Road) continues to cool. The “path of steepest descent,” marked by a dotted blue line, marks the steepest gradient ahead of the flow and the path that the flow is projected as most likely to follow. But it should be kept in mind that the steepest gradient is not always that path that lava follows. It can build its own dams, cut down to older lava tubes–or get cut off by a tube system blockage or breakout further uphill, as happened with the flow that nearly reached the road last month. HVO notes that with the current lava tongue, two possible paths of steepest descent nearly converge at one point in a relatively flat area where the lava could easily meander. If it diverts to the second path, that could take it even further north, toward Hawaiian Paradise Park.
If this new path becomes the main flow–and Civil Defense is already calling it the “new flow front”–then that could substantially alter the county’s disaster planning. The good news is that there might not have to be parallel facilities for “North Pahoa” and “South Pahoa.” The bad news is that the lava flow could be even more destructive, threatening the the newly built up area around the intersection of the bypass and the old road, with its shopping centers, the new police and fire stations, and the area’s largest supermarket–and could cut off a an even larger population.
As of this morning, both HVO and Civil Defense placed the flow 2.9 miles above the junction of Old Government Road and the bypass at the Pahoa Marketplace. The current leading edge of the flow was within about .6 miles of the flat area where the possible paths converge. ” Until the flow reaches this area, it is not clear which path it will eventually follow,” notes this morning’s HVO report. HVO did not give an estimated speed for the flow this morning, but Civil Defense reported that it had advanced about 400 yards since yesterday.