Could Hawaii’s lava flows happen in volcano-rich Washington state?

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SEATTLE -- As Hawaii's Kilauea volcano erupts, sending lava into the air and prompting evacuations in neighborhoods, many Washingtonians may be thinking: Could something like that happen here?

The dangers of volcanoes in Washington state are ever present, of course. But a volcanic eruption here would be much different than the one we're seeing in Hawaii, said George Bergantz, a professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.

"Our volcanoes are very different than the Hawaiian volcanoes," Bergantz said. "Our volcanoes don't have the plumbing system like the ones we find in Hawaii."

Hawaii's volcanoes are basalt volcanoes. Mount St. Helens' magma is more viscous.

And unlike Washington's volcanoes -- Mount Baker, Rainier, St. Helens and Adams and Glacier Peak -- Kilauea has been erupting continuously for decades.

"They (Cascade volcanoes) arise through a different set of geological processes and don't produce lave flows that are this runny," Bergantz said.

Bergantz said what has changed recently at Kilauea is location of the lava. The U.S. Geological Survey said new ground cracks were reported Thursday afternoon. Hot vapor emerged from a crack and spattering lava began to erupt.

"Instead of erupting through the (main vent), now it's erupting in the middle of a subdivision," Bergantz said.

Despite the difference in volcanoes, Bergantz said the series of earthquakes the island received days before the eruptions is much like we could see here in Washington. Over the past weeks, hundreds of smaller earthquakes have struck near Kilauea. These "earthquake clusters" are the kinds of warnings we might see.

"These clusters generally help us identify where the magma is moving," Bergantz said. "Just as in Hawaii, earthquakes are an important part of our menu of tools to understand what something like Mount St. Helens might do."

Of course, it's important to remember lava flows are different than lahars - mudflows and debris that originate from the slope of a volcano. Those are predicted to occur when Washington experiences another eruption.

May is volcano preparedness month in Washington; the month that coincides with the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

Bergantz encouraged Washingtonians to get a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit ready. But most importantly, he says, be aware of all the different ways we could be impacted by an eruption.

"Simply be aware of the variety of volcano hazards that exist," Bergantz said.

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