Popo Pops Again

Popocatepetl (Popo) erupted again this morning at 7:10 a.m., generating a plume of ash more than two kilometers (1.24 miles) east-northeast, Mexico’s National Coordinator of Civil Protection, Luis Felipe Puente said.

Popocatépetl, pronounced popo-ka-tepe-tl in Spanish is an active volcano, located in the states of Puebla and Moreles in Central Mexico. At 5,426 meters (17,802 feet) it is the second highest peak in Mexico, after Chilaltéptl (Pico de Orizaba) at 5,636 m (18,491 ft). It is linked to the Iztaccihuatl volcano to the north by a high saddle known as the Paso de Cortés.

The name is derived from the Nahuatl words popōca ‘it smokes’ and tepētl ‘mountain’, meaning Smoking Mountain. The volcano is referred locally as El Popo, and an alternative nickname is Don Goyo, which is derived from San Gregorio (St. Gregory) of which Goyo was his nickname, i.e. a shortened form of Gregorio.

While Indians have made pilgrimages to the peaks for millennium, the first Spanish ascent of the volcano was made by an expedition led by Diego de Ordaz in 1519. The early-16th-century monasteries on the slopes of the mountain are a World Heritage Site.

Popocatépetl is located 109.6 km (68 miles) northeast of Cuernavaca and can be seen regularly, depending on atmospheric conditions.

Cuernavaca to Popo

Until recently, the volcano was one of three tall peaks in Mexico to contain glaciers, the others being Iztaccihuatl and Chilaltéptl. The glaciers have greatly decreased in size, due the warming temperatures of earth, and also from increased volcanic activity. By early 2001, Popocatépetl’s glaciers were nothing but a memory, existing only in photographs.

According to paleomagnetic studies, the volcano is about 730,000 years old. The elevation at the peak is 5,450 m (17,880 ft). The volcano is cone shaped with a diameter of 25 km (16 mi) at its base. The crater is elliptical with an orientation northeast-southwest. The walls of the crater vary from 600 to 840 m (1,970 to 2,760 ft) in height. Popocatépetl is currently active after being dormant for about half of the last century. In 1991 the volcano’s activity increased and since 1993 smoke can be seen constantly emanating from the crater.


Popocatépetl is the most active volcano in Mexico, having had more than 15 major eruptions since the arrival of the Spanish in 1519. A major eruption occurred in 1947 and there have been 10 eruptions since 1994.

On December 21, 1994, the volcano spewed gas and ash which was carried as far as 25 km (16 miles) away by prevailing winds. The activity prompted the evacuation of nearby towns and scientists to begin monitoring Popocatépetl.

In December 2000, tens of thousands of people were evacuated by the government based on the warnings of scientists. Popocatépetl then made its largest display in 1,200 years.

On December 25, 2005, Popocatépetl crater produced an eruption which ejected a large column of smoke and ash about 3 km (1.9 miles) into the atmosphere and expulsion of lava.

In January and February 2012, scientists observed increased volcanic activity at Popocatépetl. On January 25, 2012, an ash eruption occurred causing dust and ash to contaminate the atmosphere around it.

On April 19, 2012, there were reports of superheated rock fragments being hurled into the air by Popocatépetl. Ash and water vapor plumes were reported 15 times over 24 hours.

On Wednesday May 8, 2013, at 7:28 pm local time, Popocatépetl erupted again with a high amplitude tremor that lasted and was recorded for 3.5 hours. It began with plumes of ash that rose 3 km (1.86 miles) into the air and began drifting west at first, but later began to drift east-south-east covering areas of the villages of San Juan Tianguismanalco, San Pedro Benito Juárez and the City of Puebla in smoke and ash. Explosions from the volcano itself subsequently ejected fragments of fiery volcanic rock to distances of 700 meters (2,297 feet) from the crater.

On July 4, 2013, due to several eruptions at Popocatépetl of steam and ash for at least 24 hours, at least six U.S. airlines canceled more than 40 flights into and out of Mexico City and Toluca airports that day.

During 27 August–September 2014, CENAPRED[1] reported eruptions accompanied by steam-and-gas emissions with minor ash and ash plumes that rose 800-3,000 meters (0.5 –  1.86 miles) above Popocatépetl’s crater and drifted west, southwest and west-south-west. On most nights incandescence was observed, increasing during times with larger emissions. On September 1, 2014 partial visibility due to cloud cover was reported. On August 29 and 31, 2014 the Washington Volcanic Ash Advisory Center reported discrete ash emissions.

On January 7, 2015, CENAPRED[1] reported that ash from recent explosions coats the snow on Popocatépetl upper slopes.

On March 28 through April 3, 2016, Popocatépetl erupted, spewing lava, ash and rock.


[1] Mexico’s National Center for Prevention of Disasters (Centro Nacional de Prevención de Desastres, or CENAPRED) is a federal agency, attached to the Secretariat of the Interior. Based in Mexico City, its function is to alert residents of possible disasters, such as volcanic eruptions. It was created in 1988, as part of the steps taken to improve disaster prevention and management in the aftermath of the 19 September 1985 earthquake.

About G. William Hood

G. William Hood is a writer, fine arts painter, educator and world traveler. He lives in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
View all posts by G. William Hood →