January 26, 2009

Advice From Margaritaville

For those of us who live in Southcentral Alaska, our western skyline is graced by some of North America's most active volcanoes. One of them, Mt. Redoubt, has become quite active in the past 48 hours, and scientists at the Alaska Volcano Observatory believe that an eruption may be imminent.

Volcanoes are just a fact of life here in Alaska (as are earthquakes - we had a magnitude 5.7 earthquake Saturday morning, and it was quite enjoyable). The chances of a reasonable person being injured by an Alaskan volcano is relatively small. But when they do erupt, the are rather inconvenient.

This particular volcano (and its sibling to the north, Mt. Spurr) are particularly well-suited to screw things up for Alaskans, because of their proximity to Anchorage, and the chances of putting a significant cloud of volcanic ash into the air. While the ash fall would simply be noteworthy in most places, it would cripple air traffic in and out of Alaska, and also across the Pacific, because most North America to Asia air routes travel along the Alaskan coast and across the Aleutians.

If you go to the Alaska Volcano Observatory website, you can find what is known as a "trajectory forecast" which displays where the leading edge of the ash would be in one hour intervals for a given eruption time. If Redoubt were to erupt today, most of the ash would be carried over the Kenai Peninsula.

So what to do?

The practical Alaskans will go to the auto parts store and buy a spare air filter for their cars, because if there is significant ash, it will be cars that suffer first (airplanes will sit on the ground until the hazard has passed). So... air filter. Maybe a package of dust masks, in case it gets really bad. So after that ten minutes of shopping, what next?

For that advice, I turn to the great American philosopher, Jimmy Buffet, who has this to say about volcanoes:

Now my girl quickly said to me
Man, you'd better watch your feet
That lava comes out soft and hot
You better lova me now or lova me not

Of course, his advice is cryptic... so please allow me to interpret for you: You'll be needing tequila, salt, ice and a partner... and you need them right now!

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