Scientists Michelle Coombs said at a morning news conference at Hawaii County Civil Defense headquarters in Hilo that the event, which sent a cloud of ash and smoke up to 30,000 feet high, was "consistent with what we were thinking might happen". About 20 fissures opened in communities along the volcano's eastern slopes, prompting evacuations of almost 2,000 residents and engulfing dozens of homes in lava.
Scientists are warning this could be the first in a string of more violent explosive eruptions, with the next possibly occurring within hours. People have been warned to protect themselves from ash fallout.
In the Hawaii Volcano Observatory, a webcam caught the consequences of the short-lived eruption: an onslaught of wet, dusty ash raining on a darkened landscape.
Fenix Grange of the state Department of Health said 10 new air quality monitors have been installed "circling the rift areas".
It's one of five volcanoes that comprise the Big Island of Hawaii, and the only one now erupting. The eruption has destroyed 37 homes and other structures in a small southeast area of the island and forced around 2,000 people to evacuate their homes.
"It's a real dynamic situation up there", she said of the summit.
Halemaumau is the crater within Kilauea's summit caldera.
Ash erupts from Hawaii's Kilauea volcano. Eye and respiratory irritants with low-level impacts for most people.More news: European Union leaders struggle to save Iran economic ties from USA sanctions
Such an eruption could not only shroud large areas of the Big Island in volcanic ash and smog, but also other Hawaiian islands and potentially distant areas if the plume reaches up into the stratosphere and ash is carried by winds.
But those events were "not the big one" is the reason of the interactions between hot rock and groundwater, Coombs said Tuesday.
This increases the risk of steam-powered explosions as the magma meets underground water.
Geologists say boulders the size of cows could be hurled from the summit if the explosions continue to strengthen.
This is because Kilauea is a so-called shield volcano, which is typically broader in shape and has lava that is relatively fluid.
Toby Hazel, who lives in Pahoa, near the mountain, said she heard "a lot of booming sounds". There have been no deaths or serious injuries reported during the current eruption.
Phreatic eruptions are "much more random", Poland said.