Friday, January 30, 2009

Alaskans Brace For Redoubt Volcano Eruption

Impending doom (or at least impending annoyance) for residents of Seward's Folly:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Hardware stores and auto parts shops scored a post-holiday run of business this week as Anchorage-area residents stocked up on protective eyewear and masks ahead of a possible eruption of Mount Redoubt.

Monitoring earthquakes underneath the 10,200-foot Redoubt Volcano about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, scientists from the Alaska Volcano Observatory warned that an eruption was imminent, sending experienced Alaskans shopping for protection against a dusty shower of volcanic ash that could descend on south-central Alaska.

...Alaska's volcanoes are not like Hawaii's. "Most of them don't put out the red river of lava," said the observatory's John Power.

Instead, they typically explode and shoot ash 30,000 to 50,000 feet high — more than nine miles — into the jet stream.

"It's a very abrasive kind of rock fragment," Power said. "It's not the kind of ash that you find at the base of your wood stove."

The particulate has jagged edges and has been used as an industrial abrasive. "They use this to polish all kinds of metals," he said.

Particulate can injure skin, eyes and breathing passages. The young, the elderly and people with respiratory problems are especially susceptible. Put enough ash under a windshield wiper and it will scratch glass.

It's also potentially deadly for anyone flying in a jet. "Think of flying an airliner into a sandblaster," Power said.

Redoubt blew on Dec. 15, 1989, and sent ash 150 miles away into the path of a KLM jet carrying 231 passengers. Its four engines flamed out.

As the crew tried to restart the engines, "smoke" and a strong odor of sulfur filled the cockpit and cabin, according to a USGS account. The jet dropped more than 2 miles, from 27,900 feet to 13,300 feet, before the crew was able to restart all engines and land the plane safely at Anchorage. The plane required $80 million in repairs.

Jesus, could you even imagine what that must have been like for those people: your plane enters a noisy cloud of impenetrable dust right before your engines all fail and you drop 2 goddamn miles, only to be saved when they restart and you all land safely? Crazy.

I've always had a soft spot for Alaska, partly because I've had a great time every time I've visited and partly because it's one of the handful of states in which I've gotten laid (perhaps those are both the same thing...). BD and hot momma, I hope that everyone you care about in Anchorage is safe and adequately prepared for the coming eruption; please send along my good wishes to friends and family alike.

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