One of the most tragic volcanic events of the 20th century occurred in Colombia, in 1985, when an eruption of Nevado del Ruiz produced lahars that swept down river valleys and destroyed communities in its path. Mount Rainier and other volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest's Cascade Range are similar to Nevado del Ruiz in many respects—massive amounts of snow and ice, a long history of lahars, and narrow valleys leading to populated areas. Could what happened at Nevado del Ruiz happen in the Pacific Northwest? And if it did, are we prepared?
In 2013, the Colombia-US Bi-national Exchange was created to help scientists, emergency managers and first responders in both countries to learn from the events in Colombia and to work toward improving disaster preparedness in communities located near volcanoes. Watch a video about the Colombia-US Bi-national Exchange and learn more about how you can prepare for the next volcanic eruption.
Washington State lahar-hazard zones contain an estimated 191,555 residents, 108,719 employees at 8,807 businesses, 433 public venues that attract visitors, and 354 dependent-care facilities with individuals who will need assistance to evacuate during an emergency. Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zones contain the highest percentage of assets, followed by Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Residential populations within lahar-prone areas increased between 1990 and 2010, mainly in the Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zone, with some communities doubling and tripling their at-risk population. Many of these new residents may be unaware of the lahar threat. This study quantifies potentially at-risk populations, to aid emergency managers, local officials, and the public in understanding the hazards and in developing preparedness, mitigation, and recovery plans for affected communities. Read Variations in community exposure to lahar hazards from multiple volcanoes in Washington State (USA) online. Check the Simplified Hazard Maps to see Cascade Range volcano-hazard zones.
The USGS-Cascades Volcano Observatory opens its doors to the public on Saturday, May 2, for a one-day open house. Scientists will be on-hand from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm to share the results of their research and talk about volcano hazards. Hands-on activities and equipment demonstrations will be featured. Download the flyer to share others – .
Volcano monitoring equipment, both past and present, is on temporary display at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma, Washington. The exhibit includes an older model drum-style seismograph and a modern-day "spider," a self-contained instrument package that can be deployed to support data collection efforts on a short-term basis. See the instruments and explore the historic interaction between the people of Washington and its ever-changing volcanic landscape through native legends, scientific discovery, contemporary environmental management, and disaster preparedness. More information on the Living in the Shadows exhibit is at the Washington State History Museum.
Join us this summer for educator workshops at Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens. The workshops feature informative talks on Cascade volcanoes and volcanic processes, ideas for classroom activities, hikes into the field, and tips for organizing school field trips to visit the volcanoes.
Falling ash, even in low concentrations, can disrupt human activities hundreds of miles downwind of a volcano, and drifting clouds of fine ash can endanger jet aircraft thousands of miles away. The economic effects of airborne volcanic ash were demonstrated during the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, when flight cancellations and delays throughout Europe caused billions of dollars in economic loss to airlines and travelers. The most effective way to reduce risk from dispersed volcanic ash is to forecast where it will go and what areas it will affect. A computer model called Ash3d uses current wind speed and directional data along with eruption characteristics to plot the potential path of an ash cloud. See today's computer simulations for hypothetical eruptions at Mount St. Helens and read more about Ash3d.