Heavy vog plagues islands despite light trade winds


If you’ve been outside, there’s no escaping it: vog, or haze from the erupting Kilauea volcano.

A viewer sent us a message via Report It, asking us to find out why even when the trade winds briefly return, it seems that the vog still sticks around.

We spoke with the National Weather Service, which tells us the trades — when we’ve had them — just haven’t been strong enough to push the vog away.

“The winds have been very light,” said meteorologist Matthew Foster. “We just have this very weak ridge of high pressure over the state and there’s just not a lot of pressure gradient which is what drives the wind speed. … The kind of real humid and stagnant air we’ve been having is not really helping either.”

It certainly hasn’t been helping people like Jennifer Griswold. The University of Hawaii at Manoa assistant professor had to work from home Monday because of her severe sensitivity to the vog.

“When we first moved here and we had our first really serious vog episode, I got really sick,” she said. “It felt like I had really severe tooth pain, or like I needed a root canal, or like someone was stabbing me in the face. … I ended up going to a dentist who told me that my sinuses were so inflamed from the vog that they were essentially crushing the nerves of my teeth.”

Griswold now takes allergy medicine to keep her symptoms at bay.

Steven Businger, an atmospheric sciences professor at UH Manoa, says vog is seasonal, but it has increased over the last decade.

“Since 2008, the summit crater at Kilauea erupted and it more than doubled the amount of vog that was put into the atmosphere, so the vog has been worse,” he said. “The concentrations are not so high here that the EPA would designate it as a real hazard.”

There’s been a lack of trade winds due to storm systems to the north. As these storms move from west to east, they displace high pressure, which is necessary to bring back our prevailing winds — the easterly or northeasterly trades.

One after another, the cold fronts will be passing to the north, which is typical for this time of year. We see the least number of trade wind days during these months.

Winds will remain light and variable — from the west over Kauai, from the east near Hilo, and some northerly winds over central portions of the state — all light in the 5-10 mph range.

Trade winds will return around Friday. It will take about a day or two for the vog to clear over the islands.

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