Bay of Plenty residents were treated to a rare sight as an electrical storm lit up the sky and White Island spewed ash into the atmosphere overnight.
The active volcano White Island, about 48km off the Bay of Plenty coastline continued to erupt overnight after beginning a new eruptive episode on Sunday.
The White Island crater lake taken at 7.30am today. Photo: GNS.
Reports last night of red lights coming from the volcano have been confirmed as lightning in an electrical storm about 50km north of White Island.
GNS duty volcanologist Michael Rosenberg says the two incidents are unrelated.
He says the electrical storm was misinterpreted as lightening in the ash plume of the volcano.
“Last night many residents on the Bay of Plenty coastline reported seeing lighting out over the sea and initial assessments were that the lightening was being produced in the White Island ash plume.
“Now that we have reviewed the data, it’s clear that the lightening was not anything to do with White Island.”
He says people reported flashes and everyone assumed it was connected to White Island.
“But we now know from MetService data that that’s not correct.”
There are also reports of a light ash falling on cars in Papamoa and other areas of Tauranga. Papamoa east resident Dave Congalton went to wash his car on Thursday afternoon when he noticed a fine layer of ash on the roof.
“At first I thought it was pollen but on closer inspection it was ash.
“It is only very fine, nothing like when Ruapehu erupted.”
Other Mount Maunganui residents have also reported seeing a light sheen of ash on cars and one person in Greerton commented on SunLive that they had ash on their car in Greerton.
Michael says the ash in Tauranga may not have come from White Island, as the wind has been blowing in the wrong direction.
“It seems unlikely the volcanic ash is related to White Island because the wind direction would have been carrying the ash from White Island away from the coastline and not towards it,” says Michael.
“We can’t make the connection between that and White Island. We would be very happy to receive any samples of that ash that we can analyse and check on the origin.”
Scientists at visited White Island on Thursday morning and confirmed it is erupting with a 300m plume of ash visible from a new vent formed at the back of the crater lake.
Today Michael says the activity on White Island remains unchanged and there are no plans to travel to White Island to inspect the volcano.
“There’s been no change, everything is pretty much as it was yesterday with some ash cloud being produced to very low levels and earthquake activity, the volcanic tremor, staying at a slightly elevated level. But about the same as it has been in the last couple of days.
“We don’t plan any visits to White Island today, we do plan to be making a volcanic gas measurement flight tomorrow, weather permitting.
“That will give us another measurement on how much of the volcanic gas is coming out and whether that has changed since the last survey.”
Mount Tongariro erupted earlier this week for the first time in 100 years.
The volcano erupted at 11.50pm on Monday evening spewing ash and rocks into the air from the Te Maari crater.