Ash from Russian volcano cancels Alaska flights

a volcano
On February 17, 2008, the skies above Shiveluch Volcano in Russia’s Far East were clear and calm, allowing the ASTER instrument on NASAs Terra satellite to catch this view of a column of ash from a recent eruption seemingly frozen in the air over the mountain. The southern slopes of the snow-covered volcano were brown with ash. (NASA image)

The eruption of a volcano in Russia this week prompted dozens of flight cancellations both to and from Alaska, as well as within the state.

Shiveluch Volcano’s largest eruption in nearly 60 years took place took place just after midnight Tuesday in Russia, or late Monday Alaska time, with ash exploding at least 50,000 feet into the air. The volcano is about 1,772 miles west of Anchorage.

While the bulk of the cloud is to the southwest of Alaska around the western Aleutians, a ribbon of volcanic gas and a little ash reached the mainland on Wednesday.

By Thursday afternoon, Alaska Airlines reported canceling 28 flights due to ash from the volcano according to the Associated Press. A Twitter post from the airline recommended passengers check their flight status.

Airline spokesperson Tim Thompson said in an email that as a safety precaution the company canceled eight flights between Western Alaska airports and Anchorage on Wednesday. Those flights were to Adak, Bethel, Dillingham and King Salmon.

Mary Peltola in Honolulu
Rep. Mary Peltola at the Honolulu airport on Thursday, April 13, 2023, after her flight to Anchorage was turned back by ash from Kamchatka’s Shiveluch Volcano that reached Alaska. (Hope McKenney/KBBI)

Alaska Rep. Mary Peltola was affected by the eruption overnight Wednesday, after her flight from Honolulu to Anchorage was turned back due to the ash plume. On Thursday morning she and other passengers were on the ground again in Hawaii, waiting for a chance to return home.

Later Thursday, passengers on the returned Honolulu-Anchorage plane were being offered rebooked evening flights. A spokesperson for Peltola declined comment to the Associated Press.

The National Weather Service’s aviation warning covered the Aleutians, Alaska Peninsula and Kodiak on Thursday morning.

Dave Schneider, a research geophysicist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory in Anchorage, says lava from the Shiveluch Volcano forms a dome, parts of which periodically collapse and create ash clouds.

“What happened a couple days ago was much more significant,” he said. “It’s still too early to really know exactly what went on, but I surmise that a large part of the lava dome that’s been growing for years collapsed and unleashed a pretty good sized eruption.”

The massive cloud was initially moving west, blanketing villages in Russia with a thick layer of ash. But as another weather system came in, it started moving east, toward Alaska. And parts of the cloud are peeling off. As of Wednesday, the ash was still out in the western Aleutians.

“But as bits and pieces of it are sort of getting pulled off, sort of like you’re making toffee, and you can pull a branch off, and it’ll sort of go off in its own direction,” Schneider said.

Check out satellite imagery of the cloud here

One cloud actually passed over Dillingham on Wednesday, though Schneider said it was mainly sulfur dioxide gas and contained very little ash.

“Both of those are part of the volcanic cloud that was produced,” he said. “And with satellites, we’re able to track those and that helps the weather service issue forecasts and sort of see where the cloud is and where it’s moving.”

The volcano’s emissions decreased on Wednesday, and Schneider said that while there’s no guaranteeing exactly when the cloud will disperse, that’s a fair sign that travel could soon be back to normal.

KBBI’s Hope McKenney and the Associated Press contributed information to this story.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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