Volcanic ash cloud: Where is it now - May 23?

Iceland's volcanic ash cloud is no where near Europe today. The five-day forecast for Europe is for ash-free skies, unless Eyjafjallajökull puffs a bigger plume or the winds shift.

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    The sun cuts through morning mist in Kurovichi village in Belarus, Saturday. The five-day forecast for Europe is for ash-free skies.
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Flights around Europe were normal this weekend with no volcanic ash cloud-induced disruptions for airline passengers.

The outlook for European air travelers this week, looks good, according to London's Met Office, Britain's national weather service. And on Sunday, the news from Iceland was even better: the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, is much quieter now.

The Met Office maps on Sunday show the Eyjafjallajökull volcano ash cloud as a plume about half the size of Iceland. It's located just south of the island and drifting slowly southward. The ash cloud is at flight levels up to 20,000 feet (cruising altitude for most commercial flights is about 35,000 feet). So, the ash cloud wouldn't pose a safety risk to most aircraft unless they were landing or taking off in the Iceland area.

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The volcanic ash cloud now is at the red level (200 - 2,000 micrograms of ash per cubic meter), the lowest of three levels of concentration, shown by the Met charts.

The next level of concentration is grey on Met Office maps (2,000-4,000 micrograms of ash per cubic meter). Airlines that wish to fly through a grey zone must get clearance from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the aircraft engine manufacturers.

The highest level of concentration, black on the Met Office charts, is 20 times higher than the red area. The black zone exceeds aircraft engine manufactures safety limits for operation, according to the Met Office.

A check of the latest Met charts shows only red zones, no black or grey zones currently being created by the Iceland volcano.

Another good sign: Eurocontrol, the European air traffic and navigation control organization, canceled a planned volcanic ash cloud teleconference Sunday. Not enough ash cloud to discuss, apparently.

And the Met Office volcanic-ash forecast for this week is clear skies. But there's a caveat.

The British forecasters say that these five-day ash cloud forecast maps are based on the expectation that Eyjafjallajökull will erupt at the same intensity during the entire five days, as it is now. They note, somewhat wryly, that Eyjafjallajökull has not erupted with the same intensity for more than two days. In other words, if the winds shift or Eyjafjallajökull starts spewing ash again, the situation can change quickly.

Scientists in Iceland say there is now minimal eruption activity at the volcano. Temperatures have dropped, and just steam, not magma, is spewing from the volcanic crater. How long this will last, no one can say for certain.

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