May 17, 2017
by Historical Climatologist Evelyn Browning-Garriss & Climatological Analyst James J. Garriss
Volcanoes vs. hurricanes — it’s the greatest fight on Earth. We’ll see a battle this summer.
People have trouble estimating how massive these forces are. If you dropped a Hiroshima-sized atom bomb in a Category 1 hurricane (the weakest ones), the energy would be lost in the swirl of the storm. As for volcanoes, the 1815 eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia blew up to 35 square miles of debris up to 75 miles high. So what happens when they are pitted against each other?
The last battle we saw was Mt. Pinatubo vs Typhoon Yunya. In 1991, the Philippines’ Mt. Pinatubo had two weeks of eruptions that reached as much as 20 miles high. Then, a Category 3 sized tropical storm, Typhoon Yunya, slammed into the beleaguered island nation. Which would be stronger? In the end, Yunya was blown to pieces and was barely a tropical storm when it limped off the island.
This summer we will see another match of a different sort – an Icelandic volcano vs. the entire Atlantic Hurricane Season. Back in 2014/2015, Iceland’s Bárðarbunga eruption poured 12 million tons of cooling sulfur gas into the air, more than Europe and Russia emits in a year. It cooled the waters of the entire North Atlantic.
Currently, the Tropical Atlantic is very hot. According to experts, this will create a very active hurricane season. The water temperatures and post-El Niño wind conditions will be perfect for storm development. They especially expect an active season in the Gulf. Texas and the Gulf really don’t need more floods and storms!
But wait – the waters cooled by Bardarbunga are pouring south. If they cool the Tropical Atlantic, they will reduce the number of hurricanes. So which will it be – a hot busy tropical storm season or will a volcano cool down the action?
The hot flow of the giant Gulf Stream or the sulfur-cooled waters from the north, which will dominate the hurricane season. Experts are divided, but if the US has a quiet tropical storm year, we may all have to give thanks to a lonely volcano that bubbled away in Iceland. – TBB
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