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Effects From Massive Volcanic Eruption in Tonga Recorded In NC

The Himawari-8 satellite, operated by our partners at the Japan Meteorological Agency, also captured this GeoColor imagery of the eruption as the sun rose over the region.  (Image credit: NOAA)
The Himawari-8 satellite, operated by our partners at the Japan Meteorological Agency, also captured this GeoColor imagery of the eruption as the sun rose over the region. (Image credit: NOAA)

ASHEBORO N.C. – While our state was focused on snow and ice a major volcanic eruption occurred over 7,250 miles away in the Pacific Ocean and its effects were recorded all the way here in the triad.

On Jan 15th 2022 at 4:10 (GMT), a massive volcanic eruption occurred on the island of Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai, in Tonga. The country, made up of some 169 islands, of which 36 are inhabited and is home to some 105,000 people. The islands are located directly south of Samoa and about two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. The volcano is located just 40 miles from Tonga’s capital.

The eruption created a tsunami and in video posted to social media from the small country showed large waves coming ashore and taking away buildings, homes, and even a church. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu issued a tsunami advisory for the U.S. and Canadian Pacific coast. In Japan the countries Meteorological Agency reported a tsunami measuring 1.2-meters or approximately 4 ft reached the southern island of Amami Oshima.

The eruption was so powerful that the Associated Press reported that it could be heard as far away as Alaska.

The ash cloud from the eruption reached as high as 12 miles into the atmosphere spreading over an area of 160 miles. Visible from space geostationary weather satellites were able to capture images of eruption as it progressed. In some of the animated satellite video a shock wave can be seen traveling outward as the eruption progresses. That shock wave, which was really just an area of high pressure moving outward at the speed of sound, was tracked across the planet using weather stations.

At around 9am on Jan 15th 2022 EST, the pressure wave reached North Carolina traveling at 740mph and crossed the entire state in less than an hour.

Evan Fisher, a Meteorology major at UNC Asheville created an animation using weather station data from the NC Climate Office that shows the recorded changes in pressure associated with the shock wave as it crossed over the state and posted it on his Twitter account.

Shortly after the eruption internet service to the country was lost. Today images of the destruction are coming out but the scale of the disaster is still unknown as disaster relief groups are still trying to reach the islands nearby. Ash has covered a lot of the islands including the international airport cutting the islands off from air travel. At least 100 homes across the archipelago have been damaged, at least 50 completely destroyed, according to Save the Children Fiji. Those numbers are expected to rise as rescuers work to restore communication.

UPDATE 1/18/22 – 1:30 P.M. | We discovered a local weather station on Cagle Loop Rd in Whynot was able to capture the shockwave as it passed through Randolph County.

KNCSEAGR3 – Weather Underground