It was a strange weather report: cloudy with thunder, lightning and a chance of rocks and ash. On Sunday, August 18, Japan’s Mount Sakurajima exploded, with its largest eruption in decades and flooding global news reports with dramatic pictures of the 3-mile high eruption.
For the citizens of nearby Kagoshima, it merely meant getting out their umbrellas and raincoats. Some, especially schoolchildren, wore dust masks. Others held scarves in front of their faces when they trotted outside. Basically, they carried on as normal.
The erupting Sakurajima volcano – cloudy with thunder, lightning and a chance of rocks and ashes. Source: NASA
For Kagoshima, it is normal. This was the 500th eruption this year! They had had over 600 last year. The eruption was commonplace for Kagoshima, but for most of the world, it was spectacular with its mushroom cloud dwarfing a modern, bustling city. At night, lava glowed deep red and lightning flashed through the skies. (Scientists don’t know why volcanoes cause lightning. It may be electrical charges in the magma or colliding dust building up static.)
Mount Sakurajima and Kagoshima city Source: Wikipedia
Residents went about their business as the ash fell like snow. Drivers turned on their lights and occasionally trains stopped to clear off the tracks. People swept the ash into large city-issued yellow bags.
Kagoshima is proud of its volcano. The chemicals added to their soil allow them to grow the world’s largest radish (68.6 lb.) and prize winning tangerines. They have cheap geothermal energy and lovely hot springs. Manufacturers prize the volcanic glass for facial cream, glass, and insulation materials in energy-saving roofs. They have a large tourist industry and are busily promoting next year’s festival celebrating the 100th anniversary of their huge 1914 eruption. You can find their web site, Living in Harmony with Volcanoes, at http://sakurajima100.org/english/  .
Kagoshima is prepared for eruptions with dams to block the lava flow and convenient shelters to step out of the ash fall. Source: http://sakurajima100.org/english/
They do prepare for large eruptions with dams and diversion ditches to direct the flow away from the city. Safety plans give procedures for different sized eruptions. Shelters and evacuation houses provide protection for citizens from heavy debris. They handle eruptions better than most cities handle heavy snowfall.
So admire the lovely pictures of the eruption. For Kogoshima, it’s just part of their normal volcano weather.
Evelyn Browning Garriss, historical climatologist, is a longtime writer for The Old Farmer's Almanac. She is also editor of The Browning World Climate Bulletin  and has advised farmers, businesses, and investors worldwide on upcoming climate events and their economic and social impact for the past 21 years.