It’s not fog. It’s not smog. It’s “vog,” and it’s back. Technically, vog is the airborne emission of sulfur dioxides from Kilauea Volcano’s Pu‘u O‘o Vent on the Big Island. Not technically, it can be a pain for people with respiratory conditions. As the volcano has been erupting for decades, vog conditions are not unusual in Hawaii, particularly on the windward side of the Big Island, where the direction prevailing trade winds blow the plume much of the year.
But when the winds change and “Kona weather” prevails, that plume blows northeast along the rest of the island chain. Vog doesn’t get “pea soup” thick like fog does, so it really doesn’t pose any travel hazards. And it’s not nearly as hazardous to human health as the sinister layer of industrial and automotive smog that hovers over major cities like Los Angeles, Paris, or Beijing.
Vog does pose a health risk, however. Even the words “sulfur dioxide” are unsettling. People who suffer from respiratory ailments like asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema face the most serious risk. But even people in good respiratory health can be affected by the hazy conditions.
There are things that both residents and visitors can do to minimize the effects. They’re simple, and they are generally effective. The first is to drink plenty of fluids to help clear the lungs and keep the throat moist. Caffeinated beverages like tea and coffee contain bronchio-dilators, which open up respiratory airways.
Another is to avoid smoking and people who smoke (duh!). There’s already enough muck in the air. Smoking will only make it worse.
When vog conditions are particularly thick, people with respiratory sensitivities should stay indoors. Close the windows and use an air purifier. There is a homespun local remedy that involves soaking bed sheets in a mixture of water and baking soda and hanging them over windows.
For the vast majority of residents and visitors to Hawaii, vog is nothing more than a geological and meteorological curiosity. The word we residents use most to describe “voggy” conditions is “yucky.” This is likely because it reminds us of the many images we’ve seen of brutal smog smothering cities like, well, Los Angeles, Paris, and Beijing.
So when the vog rolls in, don’t be alarmed. You’re most likely not in any danger from it. Go to the beach, go hiking, do whatever you had planned. Take pictures of the obscured horizon and faraway mountains. And know that it will pass before long.