Whether you realize it or not, there are volcanoes everywhere.
In fact, the American Geosciences Institute tells us that there are 169 active volcanoes in the U.S. alone.
To put that in perspective, a 10th of the world's population lives within the potential footprint of volcanoes—with more than 800 million people living within 62 miles of active volcanoes.
If you live in...
- New Mexico
...you might be closer to a volcano than you think. We are not counting the impact of the Yellowstone National Park supervolcano which would likely impact most states in the continental U.S.
Why is this important to bring up?
The reality is that every volcano has the potential to erupt at any time. It’s not often we worry about preparing for a volcanic eruption like we do a large snowstorm or a hurricane.
An erupted volcano has the potential to do far more damage than a storm and impact people in a radius that extends far past the eruption site.
So, what do you need to know about volcanoes and how to keep yourself and your family safe if one were to erupt?
Keep reading to find out...
The Dangers of Volcanoes
If you’ve ever watched an action movie with an erupting volcano, you might be familiar with a scene of people running away from slowing dripping magma as the volcanic liquid chases people down the side of a mountain. That happened, thankfully in slow motion, in Hawaii this year.
While this is exciting for the big screen, the reality of what happens when a volcano erupts is much different in real life than it is in the cinema.
Let’s take a deeper look at the side effects of this type of natural event…
Volcanoes naturally spew magma when they erupt. It’s unlikely that you’re going to have to outrun magma in order to escape a volcanic eruption. In fact, you’d have to actually live on the volcano to be worried about coming in contact with magma. So, there’s really not a lot to be concerned about when an initial eruption occurs.
That being said, magma will seep down the sides of a volcano, destroying anything in its path. If you live near a volcano, it’s best to leave the area in the unlikely event that the overflow would be able to reach your home.
The real danger of magma has to do with its ability to start fires.
As hot lava seeps down the side of an erupting volcano, it can very easily set things like trees on fire. This fire has the potential to spread to areas far greater than magma would be able to reach alone. Think of all the wildfires we have seen in recent years in California and many other western states. The aftermath of a larger volcanic event would be similar.
The Ash Effect
The most damaging part of a volcanic eruption is the ash that fills the air during the event.
According to Teach the Earth, volcanic ash contains a multitude of dangerous gases and particles including...
- Carbon dioxide
- Sulfates (sulfur dioxide)
- Hydrochloric acid
- Hydrofluoric acid
These chemicals instantly make the air dangerous and difficult to breathe in.
When the 1783 eruption of Mount Laki in Iceland occurred, these poisonous gases ended up killing off about 50% of that nation’s livestock population.
Next, ash can quickly contaminate water supplies as it coats streams, beds, lakes, and oceans. Sadly, it’s common to find thousands of animals dead after drinking the contaminated, chemical-filled water.
Ash also has the potential to halt all air travel and road travel, making it hard to leave town. As for planes, the ash in the sky can mess with electronic equipment on airplanes and prevent pilots from being able to see where they are going. This makes air travel very unsafe.
In terms of road travel, ash has been known to build up on the roads, making it dangerous to drive. Sandpoint, Idaho is about 300 miles from Mount St. Helens. When that volcano blew, four inches of ash covered city streets there.
Last but not least, ash buildup has the potential to destroy homes and buildings. Ash falls to the ground, and it gets heavy, much like snow does. Over time, the weight of the heavy ash can crush buildings, cars, and other outdoor structures.
What We’ve Learned from Historic Volcanic Eruptions: Mt. St. Helens
On May 18, 1980, Mount Saint Helens erupted in Washington, causing a lot of disruption in its path. This historic eruption left a horseshoe-shaped crater in the state, along with a new, unusable barren wasteland.
According to LiveScience…
“The abrupt release of pressure over the magma chamber created a “nuees ardentes,” a glowing cloud of superheated gas and rock debris blown out of the mountain face moving at nearly supersonic speeds. Everything within eight miles of the blast was wiped out almost instantly.
The shockwave rolled over the forest for another 19 miles, leveling century-old trees; all the trunks neatly aligned to the north. Beyond this “tree down zone,” the forest remained standing but was seared lifeless. The area devastated by the direct blast force covered an area of nearly 230 square miles (596 square kilometers).
Shortly after the lateral blast, a second, vertical explosion occurred at the summit of the volcano, sending a mushroom cloud of ash and gases more than 12 miles into the air. The cloud of ash darkened the skies, causing streetlights to come on as far away as Spokane, Wash., more than 300 miles (480 km) away.
Ash continued to erupt for more than nine hours. Ultimately, an estimated 540 million tons (490,000 kilotons) of ash drifted up to 2,200 square miles (5,700 square km) settling over seven states.
As the north face was blown apart, the heat instantly vaporized glacial ice and snow around the remaining parts of the mountain.
By 8:50 a.m., massive mudflows were moving through the river systems to the west and southeast of Mount St. Helens. The hot mud moved in excess of 90 mph (145 kph), sweeping away everything in its path.”
There are 5 major life lessons we learned from this catastrophe. We hope you’ll keep the following things in mind in the event of another eruption…
Lesson #1 - Heed News Warnings Seriously
In the 80s, we had enough technology to heed the warning that the volcano would possibly erupt. While volcanoes are still very unpredictable, today's technology is even more advanced about predicting the risk of an eruption.
If your local news station advises that you vacate an area due to unusual volcanic activity, take it seriously.
Pack your car with important documents, clothes, water, and food, and head somewhere far from where the volcanic activity is occurring. It’s better to leave an area when unusual activity is happening—rather than to get trapped in the event a volcano near you erupts.
Lesson #2 - Be Aware of Water Contamination
From chemical spills to volcanic eruptions, there are countless things that can destroy a water supply in an instant.
If an eruption were to occur in your area, don’t drink the water. Instead, ensure you have access to bottled water or a water filtration system.
Lesson #3 - Be Aware of Air Pollutants
As we talked about earlier, volcanic ash spews a variety of toxic chemicals in the air. Installing an air purification system in your home can help you in the event you’re unable to leave your town after an eruption. This is essential if you have any respiratory ailments, asthma, or allergies.
Lesson #4 - Be Prepared for an Increase in Meat Prices
As we learned from the eruption of Mount Laki in Iceland, volcanoes have the ability to wipe out large herds of livestock and poultry. Considering most people rely on meat for protein, the demand after a disaster would cause a spike in meat prices.
If you don’t like the idea of having to go without meat, be sure to stock up on nonperishable canned meats or dried meats.
Lesson #5 - Take Nature Seriously
Many people underestimate the power of natural disasters. In fact, the first person killed during the Mt. St. Helens eruption was volcanologist David A. Johnston, who camped on the ridge. He didn’t leave the site, and his final radio message was “This is it!” before debris knocked his car off the side of the road and he perished. In addition, 57 others died that day because they simply refused to evacuate after being warned of the dangers.
With the technology we have today, it’s becoming increasingly easier to stay prepared and evacuate in the event of a real emergency.
I encourage you to continue to learn about natural events and take warnings seriously should another volcanic eruption pop up on the radar.
Have a great day, and stay safe and alert!
My Patriot Supply Preparedness Advisor