Advisory for Kodiak ends after winds stir up ash from 1912 eruption

View of the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes from the Overlook Cabin in Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska in July, 1990. The valley has been filled with up to 660 feet of ash-flow deposits from the 1912 eruption of Novarupta volcano. The rim of Katmai Caldera is on the skyline at center-right. (Game McGimsey/USGS)

It’s been a big year for volcanoes in Alaska, with up to three erupting at once across the Aleutian Range.

But last weekend, worries focused on volcanic ash that rained down a hundred years ago — ash left behind by Novarupta’s 1912 eruption, which buried parts of Alaska like a heavy snowfall.

Some of that ash came back to haunt Kodiak last weekend. Pam Szatanek, who is based with the National Weather Service in Anchorage, says meteorologists call it “re-suspended ash.”

“What’s been unique about this summer for the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutians is we’ve had five active volcanoes that we’ve had to put products out for, and then we had two different volcanoes that we had to do re-suspended ash products for. And Novarupta is, of course, the one that we tend to see the most re-suspended ash from,” Szatanek said.

A National Weather Service ash advisory for Novarupta expired over the weekend without too much disruption to the enjoyment of unusually fair weather for Alaska’s emerald isle.

Ash covering a home in Katmai Village, after the 1912 eruption of Novarupta. (G.C. Martin/USGS)

Szatanek says volcanoes are typically the realm of geologists, but when they affect the weather – that’s when meteorologists like her step into the picture.

“A lot of people don’t realize that when it comes to volcanoes, meteorologists handle the volcanic ash and geologists handle all the seismic stuff. So anything dealing with volcanoes is a tag team event,” Szatanek said.

Ash advisories aren’t issued too often — a few times a year at most. But when it’s swept into the air, the ash can wreak havoc for people with respiratory problems. It’s also dangerous when it’s sucked into airplane engines. That’s why it’s important for meteorologists to track these volcanic particles, even if they’re from a century ago.

“That particular event, we could see it on satellite imagery, and we could also see it on webcam. The FAA and also the Alaska Volcano Observatory — they have a series of webcams across the area and we can click and see what’s going on. That particular event with the re-suspended ash from Novarupta, we could see on satellite imagery and with the web camera,” Szatanek said.

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