Kenai Peninsula stays clear of Redoubt's wrath -- for now

Posted: Monday, March 23, 2009

Mount Redoubt's activities Sunday night left the communities of the central Kenai Peninsula just out of range from falling ash spewed out by the volcano's five eruptions and forecasters are predicting winds to continue to blow the particulate matter away.

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Photo by M. Scott Moon
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kris Maxie and Al Wingster push a shopping cart full of bottled water and other supplies to their vehicles in the Kenai Safeway parking lot shortly after Redoubt's first eruption late Sunday. The store had lines going down the isles with people purchasing last minute rations. "It's the only reason I'm up this late," Wingster said.

Starting just after 10:30 p.m. Sunday night Redoubt ended its nearly two month long roller coaster ride of ups and downs in earthquake activity, finally blowing out a column of ash to a reported height of 20,000 feet above sea level.

The most recent eruption occurred around 4 a.m. Monday morning, launching an ash cloud to a height of about 60,000 feet above sea level, according to Rick Wessels, a geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory.

Wessels said the tail end of that cloud passed over the central peninsula at about 9 a.m.

Winds were blowing north to northwest at the time, sending ash into the interior of the state.

The National Weather Service in Anchorage reported ash fall deposits of one-eighth to one-quarter of an inch in Skwentna, and a light covering at the Talkeetna  airport.

Ashfall advisories were in effect in the Susitna River Valley through noon Monday.

Carv Scott, chief of the environmental and scientific services division in the Alaska Region Headquarters of the NWS in Anchorage, said winds would continue to direct any ash plumes in a northwest direction for the next 24 to 36 hours. By Tuesday afternoon, he said wind direction would change, swinging to the southwest, sending potential ashfall to the south of the peninsula.

Beyond that, he said computer forecasting models indicate that wind direction could again shift to the northwest by Thursday, potentially meaning any ashfall for the next few days should miss the Kenai.

"At this point, assuming our computer programs are correct, it's a pretty favorable trajectory for the Kenai Peninsula," Scott said.

The volcano's activity is far less predictable.

"There's no reason to say it wouldn't blow again in 24 hours," Wessels said.

Wessels said scientists at AVO are expecting the volcano to follow a similar eruption pattern to that seen in the 1989 through 1990 series.

Twenty years ago the volcano first erupted in December of 1989, and then continued to have a series of eruptions into mid-spring of 1990.

"If this happens like it did, we can have days to weeks of activity," Wessels said.

He noted, however, that the precursory stage leading up to the eruption varied from that of '89-90.

In that event, the volcano only showed elevated levels of earthquake activity for approximately a month before lifting off into an eruption.

Though no visible ashfall was reported to AVO on the peninsula, the smell of sulfurous gas was, meaning very fine ashfall likely was in the air, Wessels said.

He advised people with respiratory concerns to stay inside.

Wessels said flooding had occurred in the Drift River from the melting of glaciers on the mountain, but the extent remained unknown.

An AVO helicopter flight was planned Monday afternoon.

This story will be updated if warranted.

For more details on the eruption. See Tuesday's Clarion.

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