What Happens if “The Big One” Erupts in Yellowstone

Yellowstone is a tourist’s paradise. The expansive terrain is broken up with other-worldly hot pots, eroded basaltic lava flows, fossil forests, a black obsidian mountain, and a variety of odd formations. While there’s no denying Yellowstone is beautiful and worth visiting multiple times over, there’s also no denying that the very features that make the park beautiful also reveal how dangerous it is. Its constant activity can lead many people to wonder what exactly would happen if “The Big One” were to erupt in Yellowstone during their lifetime?

What Scientists Say About Future Yellowstone Eruptions

There’s no question that the giant caldera known as Yellowstone is going to eventually erupt. When it does, the effects will be impressively wide-reaching. While some experts theorize that eruption is not likely within the next 100,000 years, others admit there is a possibility it could erupt at any time. The current estimate is based on just three known previous eruptions in Yellowstone.

These happened 2.08, 1.3, and 0.631 million years ago. Based on the average distance between these three eruptions (approximately 725,000 years), some scientists are saying we still have about 100,000 years to go before the next one hits. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that the forces of nature can often be unpredictable.

What Will Likely Happen the Next Time Yellowstone Erupts

According to the United States Geological Survey, if “The Big One” occurs at Yellowstone, the effects will not be limited to the United States alone. Such a massive, caldera-forming eruption would undoubtedly cause trouble throughout the entire world.

In addition to regional effects caused by falling ash, and changes to global climate that could last anywhere from years to decades, the states closely surrounding Yellowstone would also experience pyroclastic flows (which contain a high-density mixture of pumice, volcanic gas, ash, and hot lava blocks). Pyroclastic flows are known to move at very rapid speed down volcanic slopes and destroy practically everything in their path. The states most likely to be affected by these flows include Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

A large portion of the United States would also be affected by falling ash, which could affect the food supply by suffocating livestock and other pasture animals and contaminating their feed and water. Agricultural crops and pastures would also undoubtedly be affected by thick ash clouds. The most notable effects will likely be in the states closest to Yellowstone, but ash could also spread across much of the United States.

The most wide-reaching impact of a big Yellowstone eruption would be a change in the weather. Specifically, temperatures would drop throughout the world. Sulphur gas ejected from the volcano would also form sulphuric acid aerosols which could spread quickly around the entire globe. These are thought to be the main cause behind the cooling of the climate after a large volcanic eruption. While these changes would all cause a lot of challenges for humans, they would not end all life on earth. But it would undoubtedly cause massive casualties.

How To Survive a Yellowstone Eruption

You are more likely to survive a Yellowstone eruption if you make some basic preparations to protect yourself and your family. Here’s a step-by-step plan to get better prepared.

  1. Learn more about the specific risks you’ll likely face based on your proximity to Yellowstone.

  2. Follow local recommendations to make sure your business and household is prepared.

  3. Create an emergency plan and compile an emergency kit that will allow you to be completely self-sufficient for at least two weeks.

  4. Find out what emergency evacuation routes and plans are for schools (if you have school-aged children), and local emergency offices.

  5. Establish a plan to reunite with family members if you are separated during an eruption.

Do you have any additional preparedness advice for “The Big One” that isn’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments below!