As Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano continues to erupt, officials warned on Wednesday that it could intensify, causing “ballistic projectiles” weighing as much as several tons to be thrown in all directions.
The U.S. Geological Survey and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warned that there is increased potential for “explosive eruptions” in the coming weeks that could bring ashfall and “ballistic projectiles” weighing anywhere from a few pounds to several tons, which “could be thrown in all directions to a distance of 1 km (0.6 miles) or more.” Pebble-sized rocks could also be thrown several miles.
“At this time, we cannot say with certainty that explosive activity will occur, how large the explosions could be, or how long such explosive activity could continue,” the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory said in an update on Wednesday.
The explosive eruptions could occur if the lava lake within the summit of the Kilauea volcano falls to the level of groundwater — a combination that would cause steam-driven explosions.
“Steam-driven explosions at volcanoes typically provide very little warning,” the observatory said. “Once the lava level reaches the groundwater elevation, onset of continuous ashy plumes or a sequence of violent steam-driven explosions may be the first sign that activity of concern has commenced.”
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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com