First things first—you’re probably not going to get killed by a volcano.
Sure, the U.S. has 169 active volcanoes within its borders, making it one of the most volcano-rich countries in the world (it’s surpassed only by Japan and Indonesia). And sure, one of those volcanoes is widely thought to be the most active volcano on Earth.
But volcano deaths in the U.S. are thankfully rare. Only 90 people here been killed by volcanic activity since 1980, and 57 of those people were killed in the infamous eruption of Mount St. Helens that year. Most of the remaining deaths were of tourists who fell into superheated pools or breathed toxic gas in Yellowstone or Hawaii. So while volcanoes erupt every year in the U.S., they mostly do so without killing anyone.
Mostly. And so far. But if you’re anything like me, the ongoing eruption at Leilani Estates has piqued your curiosity about our nation’s fire-spewing death mountains. So you’ll appreciate this (relatively) short volcanic eruption survival guide.
Here’s what I’ll go over:
- How we see eruptions coming
- How to be ready for an eruption
- How people die in eruptions (and how to not be one of them)
1. How we see them coming
In the U.S., our active volcanoes are monitored by scientists through the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. This program has placed a whole host of instruments on our country’s volcanoes; its scientists are able to observe their activity from remote offices thanks to gas detectors, seismic activity monitors, thermal satellite imagery, live camera feeds, and more.
These scientists also visit the mountains in person to look for deformation in the landscape, new gas vents, or other signs of activity. With this information, they’re not only able to anticipate eruptions but are also able to map which areas are at risk from lava flows, mudlslides, and other hazards.