Jonathan Castro has reminded me that I need a refresher on the proper terminology for ash columns related to volcanic eruptions. It is very easy to start mincing words and using them inappropriately - and that is the sort of sloppy reporting and discussion I am trying to avoid.

So, to refresh my (and our) memory on ash clouds and how to classify them, we can go back to one of the indispensable textbooks on volcanology, Cas and Wright's Volcanic Successions. The classification scheme they provide is summarized in the figure above. It shows the heights of various eruption columns and the relationship between types of eruptions and their "explosiveness". Jonathan is likely correct in classifying this eruption in the vulcanian range (<20 km ash column), especially if it was driven by explosions in the dome. If anything, Chaiten's activity today could be sub-plinian, but a true plinian eruption requires a taller ash column height and higher levels of explosivity.

UPDATE 2/20/2009: Here is a link to an article that talks about the processes that go along with each eruptive style. Remember, the ash column nomenclature is not solely dependent on height, but also process and composition. {Thanks to Boris for reminding me to emphasize this.}