Hawaii's most active volcano, Kilauea, burst open a second vent in mid-March, and Big Island residents living downwind have been wheezing and tearing in greater numbers since then.
The amount of toxic sulfur dioxide emitting from the volcano has doubled according to some reports, and the resulting volcanic haze, known as "vog" (short for volcanic smog) has damaged local crops and forced the periodic closure of popular Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Vog has drifted as far as 200 miles to the northwest to Oahu, tickling throats in Honolulu and attracting national media attention. That sounds like bad news for tourism but it's not, according to officials at the Big Island Visitors Bureau.
Vog, comprised of sulfur dioxide and dust particles, is a part of life on the Big Island, according to George Applegate, executive director of the bureau.
"We haven't had [a vent] like this in 40 years but it's not as dangerous as it seems," he said.
Like rain, vog comes and goes with the trade winds, said Kristin McGrath, the bureau's senior director of marketing.
"Generally, when the trade winds come in, it dissipates quickly," she said. "So we may have a morning with some vog, and then it's blue skies."
Applegate noted that the National Park Service, local civil defense authorities and scientists working in the area monitor Kilauea for any danger signs. County officials on the Big Island also have instituted a vog-level monitoring system. The visitors bureau posts volcano and vog updates on its Web site.
"What's really important is that this happened in a U.S. national park," Applegate said. "It couldn't have happened in a better place."
Rather than scaring tourists away, the new volcano vent is generating more interest among potential visitors.
"The enquiries are, 'How can I go see it?' 'Where is it now?' and 'What's the best time to visit the park?' " said Applegate. "You can go up there. Just check with [park officials] first and then drive up and see it."
Big Island tourists already on Hawaii are staying put, said McGrath. "I haven't heard any of the hotels say guests are having [health] problems or had to go home."
Applegate sees nothing but silver lining in an acrid cloud.
"There's no fear of a massive eruption," he said. "We're excited. We're always taking bets on where vents will pop up next."
Kenneth Kiesnoski is Travel Weekly's Destinations Editor. E-mail him at [email protected].