A volcanic eruption is among the world’s most powerful and frightening natural disasters.
During a volcanic eruption, lava reaches temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Large chunks of volcanic rock and debris are spewed from the mouth of a volcano during an eruption.
While predicting volcanic eruptions is possible, the process requires scientists to follow a strict regimen of data collection and monitoring that is not feasible for every volcano on the planet.
As such, it is important for people who live near volcanoes to be aware of the dangers and prepare for a possible eruption. Learn how to protect yourself and your family if a nearby volcano erupts.
What is a volcanic eruption?
A volcanic eruption occurs when a volcano discharges lava, gas and volcanic rocks. Some eruptions are explosive while others exhibit steadily flowing lava from the mouth of the volcano.
If the magma within the volcano is thick and sticky, natural gases cannot easily escape. This causes a buildup of gas and increased pressure, ultimately resulting in the explosion of rock and lava. Volcanic eruptions spew molten lava for hundreds of miles from the mouth of a volcano.
As molten lava flows down the volcano and over the earth, it melts vehicles, metal objects and machinery. Lava also produces visibility-reducing smog, which irritates the lungs and skin.
Most eruptions have a 20-mile radius of danger, though it depends on the volatility of the explosion. Additionally, volcanic eruptions often trigger other natural disasters, such as earthquakes and flash floods.
Levels of a Volcanic Eruption
Volcanic eruptions are measured using the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI). The VEI measures the amount of material discharged, the height of the lava and debris thrown into the air and how long the eruption lasts.
- Rating 1 – These eruptions are considered gentle, with small to medium volume. These occur daily.
- Rating 2 – These weekly eruptions are accompanied by a dense cloud of ash, gases and volcanic bombs.
- Rating 3 – A volcanic eruption with an index rating of three comes with glowing, flowing hot ash every few months.
- Rating 4 – These eruptions are characterized by columns of gas and ash extending to the stratosphere. Eruptions of this sort occur approximately every year.
- Rating 5 – Examples of volcanoes with a rating of five include Mount Vesuvius and Mount St. Helens. Eruptions of this class happen every 10 years or so, with a plume height of around 20 miles.
- Rating 6 – These colossal eruptions have an average plume height of greater than 18 miles. Eruptions of this type have only occurred once every hundred years or so.
- Rating 7 – Considered super-colossal, these eruptions have a plume height of greater than 25 miles. Only five instances of these eruptions have occurred within the last 10,000 years.
- Rating 8 – These super volcanic eruptions are accompanied by a plume height of over 30 miles. These types of eruptions have not occurred in more than 10,000 years. When the volcano in Yellowstone National Park erupts, scientists expect it to be a level 8 eruption.
Prep an Emergency Kit for a Volcanic Eruption
If you live near a volcano, it’s important to prepare for an eruption. As with all natural disasters, you should keep an emergency kit in your home that will sustain you and your family for an extended period.
Experts advise storing a minimum of one gallon of water per person, per day for a minimum of three days. Use half of the day’s supply for drinking purposes, and the other half to bathe or maintain personal hygiene.
Use glass or plastic bottles and containers to store clean water. Store your water in closed containers in case local authorities advise you to evacuate the area. If you are advised to stay home, fill your bathtub with clean water.
Collect a three-day supply of non-perishable food items for everyone in your household. Because you are likely to evacuate, non-perishable food is the best option.
Collect canned goods such as tuna, sardines, soups, vegetables and fruits. Dried foods like crackers, chips, nuts, dehydrated fruits, jerky, granola bars and trail mix are reliable and quickly accessible.
Some retailers offer family emergency food kits. Alternatively, purchase freeze-dried foods and meals ready to eat (MRE) from military supply stores.
It is important to have goggles and breathing masks in your emergency kit. Other items to keep in your emergency kit include a flashlight, battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
Don’t forget to include a manual can opener and other essential tools, such as a toolkit. Make sure everyone has sturdy shoes and clothing that covers the entire body, such as jeans, boots, socks, long-sleeve shirts, gloves and a hat.
Place your medications and important documents in a sturdy metal container. Other emergency essentials include matches, lighters, shovels and a utility knife.
Reinforce Your Home for a Volcanic Eruption
There aren’t many measures you can take to reinforce your home to withstand the lava from a volcanic eruption. If you are renting your property, check in with your landlord to learn what should be done or what insurance is in place to protect the home.
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Close all exterior doors and windows. For good measure, seal them shut using duct tape. This helps minimize the amount of ash that floats into your home and help prevent any low-flow lava from entering.
Place damp towels at the bottom of all interior doors. Place your emergency kit and cleaning supplies into a safe room on the highest floor of your home.
Outside, cover all electrical outlets to reduce damage done by lava or ash. If possible, remove the gutters from the perimeter of your roof.
Bring any loose items like toys and yard tools inside. Cover water or gas tanks and disconnect gas lines ahead of time.
Check your generator to ensure it is in working order. Store your fuel supply on shelves off the ground or in a dry, safe area where lava cannot reach it. Finally, keep your radio handy to listen to any updates on evacuation orders or other pertinent information.
Emergency Protocols and Exits for a Volcanic Eruption
It is important to have emergency protocols in place if you live near a volcano. With a map of your area, highlight your exit routes in case of an evacuation.
Remember to develop multiple routes if debris or volcanic ash blocks your primary exit. Take time to drive through your exit routes ahead of time and note possible obstacles or side streets you can take.
Develop a short notice evacuation plan with your family. Assign each person a special role in preparing for evacuation. Create a checklist for each person.
Practice executing the plan with your family a few times to see how long it takes. If it took too long, modify your plan and try again.
Continuously listen to news broadcasts providing current developments and evacuation decrees. Stay out of areas which are downwind or downriver of volcanic eruption.
If an eruption occurs, seal doors, windows and ventilation covers to prevent ash, dust or smoke from entering your home. Find an interior room of the house without windows and stay within.
If you are outside during an eruption, use goggles, dust masks and long-sleeve clothing to protect your body. Avoid driving during periods of heavy ashfall. If you must drive, turn off your lights to assist with visibility.
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