A few years ago, when The New Yorker published a story about “the really big one,” an earthquake that would devastate the West Coast, it ignited an impending fear for Washingtonians.
Natural disasters are less of a threat in this region than in some of our southern or Midwest states, but the U.S. Geological Survey recently published an assessment that reminds us of another natural disaster that could threaten our area — the sleeping giants we marvel over.
The Associated Press reported that for the first time since 2005, USGS updated is volcano threat assessment and listed Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier as among the top five most dangerous volcanoes.
“This report may come as a surprise to many, but not to volcanologists,” said Concord University volcano expert, Janine Krippner, in the AP report. “The USA is one of the most active countries in the world when it comes to volcanic activity.”
Since 1980, the U.S. has experienced 120 volcanic eruptions. USGS listed Hawaii’s Kilauea as the most dangerous volcano, and it has been erupting this year. Also on the top five list are Alaska’s Redoubt Volcano and California’s Mount Shasta. Other high-threat volcanos located nearby are in Oregon and California. Eleven of the 18 “very high threat” volcanoes are located in Washington, Oregon, and California, according to the AP.
The chief author of the USGS report, John Ewert, emphasized that this ranking does not indicate which volcano they anticipate will be the next to blow, but rather the “potential severity” of the damage.
Mount Rainier “has the highest number of people in the downstream hazard zone,” — roughly 300,000 people, according to USGS geologist Angie Diefenbach, another author of the report.
To compile the threat list, the USGS tallied scores based on: “type of volcano, how explosive it can be, how recently is has been active, how frequently it erupts, if there has been seismic activity, how many people live nearby, if evacuations have happened in the past, and if eruptions disrupt air traffic,” according to the AP report.