August 4, 2018 / 4:14 AM / 2 months ago

Hector vs. Kilauea: Hurricane on track to skirt past Hawaii's erupting volcano

(Reuters) - Two of Mother Nature’s most potentially devastating forces - a major hurricane and an erupting volcano - appear headed for a close encounter on Hawaii’s Big Island next week, weather forecasters said on Friday.

FILE PHOTO: Lava fragments falling from lava fountains at fissure 8 are building a cinder-and-spatter cone around the erupting vent, with the bulk of the fragments falling on the downwind side of the cone as it continues to feed a channelized lava flow that reaches the ocean at Kapoho during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S. June 11, 2018. USGS/Handout via REUTERS

Hurricane Hector, swirling harmlessly in the Pacific some 1,700 miles (2,760 km) east of the Big Island, grew into a “major hurricane” late Friday, and its maximum sustained winds reached 120 mph (195 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Storms of that strength, classified as a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale, are considered capable of causing devastating damage to populated areas.

Hector was on a trajectory that could brush the southern coast of the Big Island late on Wednesday morning, the NHC said.

That would put the storm on a virtual collision course with Kilauea Volcano, situated on the southern portion of the island. The volcano is in the midst of a 3-month-old eruption of lava from vents on its eastern flank while its summit crater continues to collapse.

Lava spewed from Kilauea since May 3 has covered 13.4 square miles (34.7 sq km) of the island’s surface, destroying more than 700 homes and displacing thousands of residents.

Scientists differ over how hurricanes and volcanoes might interact, including the question of whether low atmospheric pressure from a major cyclone could help trigger an eruption, and much remains unknown on the subject.

The current Kilauea lava flow, emanating from just one of about two dozen volcanic fissures that opened in the ground, has been going on for 93 days straight, marking the longest nonstop eruption on record from Kilauea’s lower East Rift zone.

That surpassed eruptions from the lower zone of several weeks and 88 days recorded in 1840 and 1955, respectively, according to Janet Babb, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. But an eruption from another vent on Kilauea’s middle East Rift Zone continued with little interruption for 35 years.

Reporting by Steve Gorman, with additional reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Tom Hogue

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