Volcano danger: Is your state next?
Potentially bad news for anyone looking to go on vacation to Alaska, Hawaii, Washington or California: The U.S. government has updated its list of the most dangerous volcanoes in the country and these states have more than their fair share of representation.
According to a new report from the U.S. Geological Survey, Kīlauea in Hawaii, Mount St. Helens in Washington and Mount Rainier, also in Washington, are the three most dangerous volcanoes in the United States. There are 18 in total that are classified as a "very high threat," largely due to where they are in relationship to people and the activity inside them.
"Eleven of the 18 volcanoes are located in Washington, Oregon, or California, where explosive and often snow- and ice-covered edifices can project hazards long distances to densely populated and highly developed areas," the study's abstract reads. "Five of the 18 very high threat volcanoes are in Alaska near important population centers, economic infrastructure, or below busy air traffic corridors. The remaining two very high threat volcanoes are on the Island of Hawaiʻi, where densely populated and highly developed areas now exist on the flanks of highly active volcanoes."
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The abstract continues: "The high- and moderate-threat categories are dominated by Alaskan volcanoes. In these categories, the generally more active and more explosive volcanoes in Alaska can have a substantial effect on national and international aviation, and large eruptions from any of the moderate- to very-high-threat volcanoes could cause regional or national-scale disasters."
The list in order is as follows:
1. Kīlauea, HI
2. Mount St. Helens, WA
3. Mount Rainier, WA
4. Redoubt Volcano, AK
5. Mount Shasta, CA
6. Mount Hood, OR
7. Three Sisters, OR
8. Akutan Island, AK
9. Makushin Volcano, AK
10. Mount Spurr, AK
11. Lassen volcanic center, CA
12. Augustine Volcano, AK
13. Newberry Volcano, OR
14. Mount Baker, WA
15. Glacier Peak, WA
16. Mauna Loa, HI
17. Crater Lake, OR
18. Long Valley Caldera, CA
The U.S. has 161 active volcanoes in total, a decrease of eight from 2005 when the report was last updated, but the aforementioned 18 are considered the most dangerous.
"This report may come as a surprise to many, but not to volcanologists," said Concord University volcano expert Janine Krippner. "The USA is one of the most active countries in the world when it comes to volcanic activity," she said, noting there have been 120 eruptions in U.S. volcanoes since 1980.
Kilauea is the most active volcano in the United States "and it's got a lot of development right on its flanks," said government volcanologist John Ewert, the report's chief author. He said Hilo, Hawaii, is probably the biggest city in the United States in a hazard area for a very high threat volcano, Mauna Loa.
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Ewert said the threat rankings aren't about what will blow next, but "the potential severity" of the damage.
Also included in the report are 39 "high" volcanoes, 49 are considered "moderate" threats, 34 have the designation "low" threat and 21 are listed as "very low."
Denison University volcanologist Erik Klemetti said the United States is "sorely deficient in monitoring" for many of the so-called Big 18.
"Many of the volcanoes in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington have few, if any, direct monitoring beyond one or two seismometers," Klemetti said in an email. "Once you move down into the high and moderate threat (volcanoes), it gets even dicier."
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There's been a lot of speculation of a super eruption at Yellowstone, but Mike Poland, the scientist in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, said: "We don't really have any indication that Yellowstone is doing anything abnormal."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia
Follow Chris Ciaccia on Twitter @Chris_Ciaccia