Saturday, December 11, 2010

Prepare For The Worst! Volcanoes

This bridge stood no chance against the power of a lahar!

I now present to you the next part in my series, Prepare For The Worst! This part includes my favorite (and most feared) natural disaster of the Pacific Northwest, volcanoes.
Volcanic eruptions present numerous disasters and hazards. Kind of like a disaster smoothie, except instead of bananas, oranges, and a hint of pineapple, the recipe calls for ash, volcanic rock, and an excessive amount of lahars (or volcanic mud flows).

A Beautifully Deadly Thing
There is one thing I have learned about nature: If it's beautiful, it can probably kill you.

These horses are SO dead.
There are countless examples of this all over the world and even in our own backyards. For example, Pretty little flowers called Buttercups are poisonous to most livestock if ingested. Yes, those pretty little flowers could wipe out your entire farm. Typically, animals avoid them because they taste awful, but they can cause everything from bloody diarrhea, colic, and blistering of the gastrointestinal tract. While nothing I've found states they are dangerous to humans, I don't mess with anything that can take down a 1600+ pound cow.

Another note about buttercups, their Latin name is Ranunculus, which translates to “little frog,” and also sound like something Moe would call Larry or Curly before smacking them in the back of the head.

Speaking of frogs, they're another beautiful yet deadly thing. The best example of this is the aptly named Poison Dart Frog. This colorful creature gets its name from the fact that some indigenous peoples used them to poison the tips of their darts used to kill enemies.

These tiny creatures, often no longer than your pinkie, use their colors to warn predators that they are poisonous so they don't get eaten. The colors on these amphibians are like a flashing neon warning sign that reads “I WILL KILL YOU.” In fact, over time these frogs have evolved to become even more poisonous because some predators were becoming resistant to their toxin.
Coming back to our main topic, think about anywhere you've been where you had a amazing view a volcano. How far were you from that sleeping beast of a mountain? Not far enough to be safe, that's for sure. Any gorgeous view of a volcano comes with a price and that price could be your life.

“Yea, sure, that'll never happen in my lifetime,” you say. My response to this is to tell you to shut up. Then, I'll show you examples of the destructive force of volcanoes that have occurred as recently as this decade. Like this one earlier this year or this one even more recently. If you really want to be freaked out, check out the weekly report of volcanic activity from around the world at Volcano World. I read it late at night under a blanket with flashlight for extra scary effect.

Volcanoes Won't Stand for Our Insolence!
In 1980, Mt. St. Helens, a volcano in the south Cascade Mountains of Washington state decided that it'd had enough and blew it's top. And most of it's majestic northern side. Mt. St. Helens decided to put an end to all of the misogynistic remarks Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier had been saying about her behind her northern side.

"Hey kids, you wanna go see an active volcano?"
For two months prior to the eruption, a series of earthquakes in the volcano occurred as well as numerous episodes of steam venting from the mountain. Soon, a giant 270 ft tall bulge grew out of the north side of the mountain, ending a 123 year old streak of dormancy. It was like Mt. St. Helens had gone away for the summer before high school as the quietest, most flat-chested girl in class, only to return the first day of high school with Pam Anderson sized boobs and a mouth like Kanye West.

While many authorities wanted to keep the mountain open to the public during this period of activity, our good friends at the United States Geological Survey convinced them to close the mountain for the safety (and from the stupidity) of the public. This move prevented natural selection from taking it's course. Oh, and saved countless lives, as well.

Despite the USGS' best efforts, fifty seven people still perished when Mt. St. Helens blew it's northern side on May 18th, 1980. Thousands of animals in the surrounding forests perished as well when these forests suddenly became flattened by lahars seen to be more than 12 ft tall. These volcanic mud flows traveled as far as 50 (!) miles south to the Columbia River and reduced the river's depth almost 30 feet. Lahars also took out Pierce Brosman's buddy, Paul, in the movie Dante's Peak.

Your New Home, Laharville!
I present to you the town that lahars built! I call it, Laharville. I guess it has another name, something stupid like Orting. This town is approximately 30 miles from Mt. Rainier with a population of around six thousand. It is nestled between the Carbon and Puyallup rivers on a peninsula that is made up of sediment from lahar deposits.

Lahars also carved out the Puyallup River Valley in which Orting rests (and waits to be destroyed). This valley runs from Mt. Rainier all the way to the Puget Sound, about 45 miles. This is why this area is so fertile for growing crops. The drawback to this is, of course, the risk of future lahars burying you and your family.

The town of Orting has actually been dubbed the most at risk town for lahars if (and when) Mt. Rainier should erupt. This is a fact and yet people are still moving to this town willfully. I'm shocked they can afford insurance on a home in this place.

The town practices its evacuation drills often. However, there are only two roads out of town that don't go toward the mountain. Orting officials advise you to walk out if you must, but keep moving. This is good advice, though I doubt anyone can outrun a lahar. Estimates state that Orting would have as little as thirty minutes for a lahar to hit the town. Thirty minutes to evacuate around 6000 people, many of which will be walking, through a couple roads. Good luck, especially considering that Orting floods (Warning PDF file) on an annual basis due to snow melt from the same mountain that will someday destroy it.

My piece of advice if you live in an area that is susceptible to lahars or other major volcanic activity. MOVE AWAY! There is no reason to live in fear of these sleeping beasts or their destructive claws. I'm willing to give those who may get a dusting of ash a free pass in the event of an eruption, but anything worse than that is unacceptably idiotic. If your entire town exists because a lahar carved out a valley and a couple rivers around you, you need to find a new town. End of story.

1 comment:

  1. I've been waiting for the lahar post! I would have crawled under my covers too if I hadn't been too terrified to move as I read about them.

    I also had no idea about buttercups. Those little bastards!