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Turrialba volcano at it again: a new volcanic eruption in Costa Rica

A new Costa Rica volcano eruption made news today, due to increased activity at the Turrialba Volcano in Cartago. The ash clouds generated by the volcanic eruption in Costa Rica were so dense that airports were forced to close down for several hours, something that hadn’t happened for several months.

The Turrialba volcano: Costa Rica’s latest annoying resident

volcanic eruption costa rica turrialba
Activity in May, 2016

The Turrialba volcano, located northeast of Cartago, has been pretty much dormant for the past few decades. But last year, geologists started to detect increased activity, and during the first months of 2016, it registered several large eruptions, that dropped volcanic ash over the Central Valley and most of the metro area.

That’s right: San Jose got a taste of volcanic activity for the first time in decades… volcanic ash in San Jose, Costa Rica. On vehicles, on plants, dusted over houses, you name it. That’s how far the ash cloud from the Turrialba volcano went: all the way from the volcano to San Jose.

Costa Rica has several active volcanoes, probably the best-known is the Arenal volcano, which rumbles all day long and sometimes leaks red-hot lava at night. There’s also the Irazú and Poas volcanoes, that are very popular tourist attractions. These two last volcanoes are completely calm, and it’s possible to hike all the way to the crater and look inside, which makes them popular spots.

But none of those volcanoes interferes with daily life. Active as they may be, you really don’t get much from them outside the parks they’re in. No noise, no smell, and absolutely no ash. They’re just nice places to visit, outside the capital, and that’s that.

Which makes the Turrialba volcano eruptions really stand out and become viral news every time they happen: because they fly right in the face of the 4 million people that live in the capital and surrounding areas.

When there’s a volcanic eruption at Turrialba volcano, everyone knows. All the sudden you start to get a sulfur smell in the air, and maybe you step out for moment and notice a few fine lines of grey ash on the floor.

And then, a real volcanic eruption in Costa Rica

From the moment you start to notice the sulfur smell, two things might happen. The smell might just hang around for a few hours and then disappear without incident, which is what happens about 95% of the time here. You sweep up the little bit of ash, and that’s the end of it.

Wait a minute, that's not a rain cloud.
Wait a minute, that’s not a rain cloud. maemaemae.xyz

And the other 5% of the time all hell pretty much breaks loose in the metro area. At the volcano you get a huge cloud of ash that flies up into the air, geologists say for several thousand meters. And that cloud gets carried away by the wind, and rains down on the capital.

That’s what happened this September 19th in Costa Rica. Around 4 PM the cameras at the Turrialba showed a huge eruption breaking out… and by 5 PM San Jose was in the middle of the ash cloud.

All of a sudden you look out the window, and see something that looks like a dust storm sweeping over the city. And you see roofs getting grey, cars getting grey, grass getting grey. If you’re unfortunate enough to be outside, you start to get an itch in your eyes… which means you should step inside pretty quickly at that time.

And life goes on as usual indoors, with maybe an occasional trip to the window to see how things area looking outside. The answer most of the time being “grayer by the minute”.

And, all hell broke loose. maemaemae.xyz
And, all hell broke loose. maemaemae.xyz

The ash clouds take a few hours to dissipate, depending on how big they are. And afterwards, everything’s back to normal. Eventually you find the patience to clean everything off, especially your car, that ends up looking like you just drove it through some strange version of the Dakkar rally.


The Turrialba volcano: annoying, but not dangerous

Fortunately for people that live in Costa Rica, the Turrialba volcano is really not that dangerous. The volcanic eruptions at the Turrialba volcano are annoying, but the Turrialba is far from populated areas. That makes it impossible to get, say, lava flows coming down main street.

Agriculture does suffer in some areas, and crops and livestock are lost sometimes. But even that doesn’t really affect daily life.

The ash cloud on occasion might cause a distracted driver to rear end another car, misjudging the distance it takes to brake when the street’s covered in dust.

And of course, if you have asthma, or you’re allergic to dust, it’s going to act up during those times.

But for the most part, despite the volcanic eruptions in Costa Rica, despite the ash cloud over San Jose and the metro area, life goes on and it’s business as usual.

Better wash those cars. Photo: @daser76
Better wash those cars. Photo: @daser76

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