May is Volcano Awareness Month, a reminder to prepare

May 15, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 4 p.m. May 15, 2012

May is Volcano Awareness Month in Washington, although no volcanoes in the Evergreen State show indications of immediate reawakening, volcanoes often give just a few days’ warning before eruptions begin.

Preparing to survive and recover from Washington’s next volcanic eruption can help keep communities safe and recover faster after the next eruption occurs.

State and U.S. Geological Survey officials commemorated the month by conducting a variety of volcano-related trainings for emergency managers, aviators, health care personnel, park interpreters and school students.

Scientists consider Washington’s large volcanic cones — Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens  — active because of recentness of eruptions, and the long-term presence of earthquakes and thermal features.

Friday marks 32 years since the catastrophic eruption of Mount St. Helens.

During the last 4,000 years, eruptions at Cascade volcanoes — from Washington to Northern California — happened, on average, once or twice a century. Individual eruptions lasted for months, years and even decades.

Seven volcanoes in the Cascade Range have erupted since 1776; four such eruptions could have caused substantial damage and loss of life if they occurred nowadays.

Issaquah sits outside the area under threat from Mount Rainier lahars, a debris-strewn mudflow streaming from a volcano, but volcanic ash, or tephra, could impact transportation and air quality in East King County. In the area surrounding the mountain, lahars pose a greater hazard than lava and poisonous gases.

Still, city emergency planners identify volcanic eruptions as a potential threat to Issaquah.

The state Emergency Management Division and USGS join local and federal emergency management agencies to coordinate communication and recovery efforts.

Throughout the region, the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory works to improve eruption forecasting and warning capabilities at Cascade volcanoes as part of the National Volcanic Early Warning System.

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