Bay Area experts say Kilauea following pattern of lava flows, explosions

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Local volcano experts say Kilauea is following a well-established pattern of lava flows and both large and small explosions. That is helping emergency officials decide when to evacuate. (KGO-TV)

Local volcano experts say Kilauea is following a well-established pattern of lava flows and both large and small explosions. That is helping emergency officials decide when to evacuate.

It sounded downright ominous when the U.S. Geological Survey provided an update on Thursday morning's explosion on Kilauea that sent a huge plume of ash rocketing into the sky.

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"It caused a volcanic cloud that reached as high as 30,000 feet above sea level, which is the biggest cloud we've had so far," said Michelle Coombs of the USGS.

UC Berkeley Volcanologist Stephen Self says that's what the activity on the volcano has been leading up to, red hot lava flowing down out of the crater to an epic meeting with the groundwater below."

Volcanic ash can spread for miles and rocks blown into the air can become dangerous projectiles as they fall onto people and property. Self says Kilauea could bring localized damage and injury to the Big Island, but no one knows for how long.

"It's dangerous within a few kilometers of the top of the volcano," Self added.

PHOTOS: Take a look at some of the most arresting images from Kilauea volcano eruption

Kilauea is also a reminder that there are volcanoes in the Western U.S. and in California.

Last year, the USGS said 16 active volcanoes made its California watch list. The biggest threats are Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, which last erupted in 1917.

Self has co-authored research on how well communities prepare for possible volcanic eruptions. "That depends on the local communities and how well their civil defense, or national guard, or police are attuned," he said.

Self told ABC7 News that, in general, communities in the West are already well prepared for natural disasters but in other countries, preparation is more hit and miss.

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