A Primer on Volcano Preparedness
On Thursday, May 3rd 2018, lava and volcanic steam found it’s way through a vent in the eastern flank of Kilauea, endangering the homes and lives of those living on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Leading up to this event, Hawaii experienced hundreds of earthquakes, some a result of shifts in the volcano, that led experts to believe Kilauea was going to explode.
Since it’s easier for most folks to understand, the news media will tell you that Kilauea is now "erupting." However, it’s more accurate to say that the eastern rift, or Pu’u ‘O’o has been erupting since 1983, but only so often do explosions or breakouts of lava occur.
At the time of this writing, several thousand people have been evacuated. Breakouts and explosions continue to increase and intensify. A "red alert" was issued May 15th meaning that a major eruption is imminent.
Now, geologists are discussing the increased likelihood of steam explosions, which could send "ballistic rocks," some as heavy as several tons, up to several miles away.
We are monitoring this situation as closely as we can and will update this article as it progresses.
We hope that our fellow patriots in Hawaii stay safe.
But even if Kilauea were to settle down it’s explosions and fissures, the damage done will last for months. Specifically, volcanic fog known as vog and acid rain, which can be toxic to humans, crops and wildlife. Air quality issues will persist for months and years from now.
It is possible that these lingering effects may also reach the mainland. It’s happened before. It’s why all of us need to think about preparedness for volcanoes. More on that in a moment.
Also in the news is the incredible amount of geyser and earthquake activity around the Yellowstone super volcano. A record 300 earthquakes happened beneath Yellowstone in February, followed by several geyser eruptions, the first in years. Experts seem to think there is nothing to worry about, but maintain their monitoring around the clock.
While Hawaii and Yellowstone often come to mind when you think of volcanoes, there are 169 active volcanoes in the U.S., according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS labels 54 of those volcanoes as "high" threats or worse. Seven of those are in California alone, which sits on the "Ring of Fire" a chain of Pacific volcanoes that include several nations (though interestingly, not Hawaii).
To monitor all of these volcanoes and learn about each, you can check out the USGS Volcanic Activity Map here.
Lesson from History #1: It Doesn’t Have to Be A Mega-Eruption to be Devastating.
Almost 40 years ago now, Mt. St. Helens erupted in Washington.
It was May 18th, 1980.
The eruption killed 57 people and thousands of animals. The blast went sideways and triggered a 300 m.p.h. landslide. The huge ash plume blotted out the sun as far away as Montana.
The interesting thing is that Mt. St. Helens was and is considered a "baby" volcano. In geological terms, Mt. St. Helens was only 37,000 years old when it erupted.
Still, it erupted with a force 500 times that of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Certainly proof that the fire God created on Earth is not to be played with.
However, some don’t heed the warnings and signs. One of the casualties of Mt. St. Helens was 83-year old innkeeper Harry R. Truman. Despite daily earthquakes at his lodge, he vowed to hunker down with his 16 cats and a lot of whisky. "No damn way does that mountain have enough stuff to come my way" he told The Oregonian. A month later, Mt. St. Helens called his bluff.
Mr. Truman is perhaps too stubborn to serve as a rich anecdote, but I think common sense should tell us that sheltering-in-place is not an option if you live in a red zone.
If you do live in a red-zone, your preparedness planning should focus on evacuation first. Once you have that plan built out, you can build out a plan for wherever you may need to evacuate to.
However, we’ll also learn that nowhere on Earth is safe from a volcano, especially particularly violent ones.
Lesson from History #2: Volcanoes can disrupt our food supply.
In 1815, Mount Tambora erupted in Indonesia on the island of Sumbawa. The immediate eruptions killed 100,000 people.
However, the devastation would not end there. Tambora gave off a 400-million-ton cloud of gas. The ash and dust particles spread across the globe, blocking out the sun and causing global temperatures to decrease.
Then, 1816, became "The Year without Summer."
The United States had just begun to recover from the war of 1812. They noticed that spring never arrived, with unseasonably cool weather.
Later, American farmers began experiencing massive crop failures. Food prices skyrocketed, along with outbreaks of disease.
You can read the full report on this in our Scout article "How Can You Lose an Entire Summer?" here.
The key thing to remember about the Tambora eruption and its long-ranging and long-lasting global effects, is that this was over 200 years ago. If something similar happened now, with our global system of food supply and distribution, there would be major chaos. The ash cloud wouldn’t even need to cover the entire globe to significantly disrupt our food supply.
For this reason, everyone needs to be prepared with volcanoes in mind. The effects of a mega ash cloud could affect crops and drinking for several years, so adequate food stores and water filtration are necessary for all Americans. Stocking up on seeds would also be a responsible idea for when the ash and acid rain clear.
I hope this serves as a good primer to volcano preparedness. We will continue to watch these developing stories, along with more advice over the next few months.
Have a great weekend friends. Stay vigilant and safe out there!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply