Mar 10, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

Yes, You CAN Outrun a Supervolcano – For a While

If you’re planning a visit to Yellowstone National Park this summer, you may want to pack your running shoes and do a little jogging ahead of time if you’re afraid the Yellowstone Supervolcano might decide to erupt while you’re there. New research on past eruptions suggest you can outrun a supervolcano’s lava flow … at least for a while.

They still devastate a huge area, but they're slow and concentrated and dense.

That’s not someone covering the presidential race but volcanologist Greg Valentine of the University at Buffalo in New York talking about why he believes a supervolcano would lose a footrace in his recent study in the journal Nature Communications. He and his colleagues studied rocks carried by a supervolcano that erupted in Arizona 18.8 million years ago and found that they were only moved about 100 yards, no matter what size they were.

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A volcanic lava flow lining up to start a road race

Using that data and computer modeling, Valentine determined that the supervolcano's lava flowed at about 10 to 45 mph (16 to 72 km/h). Ten miles an hour? When you’re being chased by hot lava, that’s sounds doable, doesn’t it? Well, the world’s fastest marathoners average around 13 miles an hour and Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest sprinter – covers 100 meters at 27.44 miles per hour. Get your stopwatch, go run around the block pretending a big dog is chasing you and see how you do.

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Usain Bolt imagining a volcano behind him

I wouldn't recommend anyone try to outrun a volcano, but there's a few of us that could.

You probably wheezingly agree with Greg Valentine’s assessment. Luckily, you’ll most likely have a car on your trip to Yellowstone and that can certainly hit 45 mph – as long as you’re one of the first people to leave the park before the massive traffic jam. But will there be a traffic jam or a parking lot or even a Wyoming left to flee from if the Yellowstone supervolvano erupts?

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Estimated area of destruction caused by a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption

These estimates for outrunning a supervolcano assume you’re not one of the 87,000 people expected to die immediately when Yellowstone erupts, but you’re far enough away to be threatened by just the lava flow. Valentine says there should be sufficient warning of at least a few hours before that happens (is that really the definition of 'sufficient'?).

With a Yellowstone supervolcano eruption expected to devastate two-thirds of the U.S., maybe you should play it safe and vacation in England instead.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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