Hunga Tonga volcano triggered nearly 400,000 lightning strikes

C-130 aircraft to parachute drop drinking water and other emergency supplies for Tonga residents

Lightning Hunga Tonga volcano
Lightning at the Hunga Tonga volcano. Still image from video by Potungaue Koloa Fakaenatula / Servicio Geológico de #Tonga.

The massive underwater Hunga Tonga volcano that erupted near Tonga in the South Pacific on January 14 triggered almost 7 hours of lightning as well as a tsunami. A ground-based lightning detection system recorded nearly 400,000 strikes with 200,000 occurring in a one-hour period. For comparison, a severe lightning bust in northern California might have hundreds or a few thousand strikes. The ash cloud reached at least 60,000 feet with some reports saying the initial plume reached 100,000 feet, three times the altitude of commercial airliners.

Below is a video showing part of the eruption recorded by Potungaue Koloa Fakaenatula / Servicio Geológico de #Tonga. A lightning strike or two can be seen at 29 seconds. Most of the lightning was probably inside the ash plume or higher in the column.

The nearby island of Tonga was heavily affected by a four-foot tsunami followed by deposits of ash, which at least temporarily contaminated water supplies and shut off most utilities. A C-130 from New Zealand was scheduled to drop supplies by parachute.

The volcano is part of the highly active Tonga–Kermadec Islands volcanic arc, a subduction zone extending from New Zealand north-northeast to Fiji.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

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