Guest post from Tallis
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a fascination with meteorology, Thunderstorms in particular, but the entire science as a whole. I am a self-taught weather person, who has read books, watched lectures and talked to storm chasers about their interests. While volcanoes are almost as interesting to me, my one true love lies with the weather. Tracking and experiencing severe weather has been the greatest physical pleasure I have ever experienced and I would gladly toss aside most other pleasures to experience it.
Tornadoes have always been a long-lasting center for my interest and the catalyst that triggered my dive into meteorology. They are the most intense meteorological phenomena known to man.
In terms of power no downburst, hurricane or blizzard known has matched a tornado’s intensity.
Only a hypercane, born out of a flood basalt or impact event would be likely to surpass or match a tornado’s intensity.
For a long time F5 tornadoes were thought to have winds in the 300 mph range but in 2007 that came to an end with the “Enhanced Fujita scale”. Now the strongest EF5 tornadoes are given wind speeds of around 210 mph. This has put the strongest tornadoes on equal footing with the strongest of hurricanes.
There has not been a single violent tornado with reliable surface measurements done in the worst portion. DOW has shown that winds within F5 tornadoes at a certain level exceed 250 mph but this is not a direct measurement of surface winds. With that being said, a significant portion of our community believes that this new scale underestimates tornadic winds. The power of the strongest tornadoes is mysterious and to this date have not been conclusively measured. Older scientific works brought the strongest tornadoes strength up to 500 mph but most acknowledged the lack of conclusiveness of the assessment with unconfident language. However nowadays, you seldom hear scientific studies of tornadoes bring up winds surpassing this new scale unless explicitly recorded from DOW.
There is significant evidence to suggest winds from tornadoes exceed that of this new scale, but this is a VOLCANO cafe and not a Weather club. So I’ll be bringing up at most two examples later on but for now, let us change tunes from weather to geology. It is my fear that VEI 7+ eruptions will be underestimated by the main scientific community in the future not only in terms of probability but effects as well, specifically climate effects including ecological effects.
I don’t think that large volcanic eruptions have lost a significant amount of respect (Yet) but it is my opinion that could change quickly.
What Tornadoes and Volcanoes have in common is that what they can produce at their worst is poorly constrained and debated frequently. There is still a significant amount of uncertainty and mystery surrounding these events. For the longest time, people would hear fantastic stories about the power and effects of these events and with the rise of the internet and television. Grand portrayals and soulless, unscientific, and baseless gossip led to hyperbole and warped perception of these events. Look no further than the Yellowstone volcano for a surplus of examples.
Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction, and I believe we might be beginning to see that reaction with volcanoes. In response to constant hyperbole and doomsayers, a new breed of skeptics seems to have emerged. Lately confronting the VEI 8 eruption of Toba and the Deccan traps flood basalt. These eruption’s effects are very debatable and uncertainties exist that puts a wrench in understanding the potential effects on this event. It is possible that these volcanoes did not have a significant effect on the ecology or species of their time. However, this doesn’t invalidate Large eruptions as a threat. Some have already made this rash connotation with VEI 8 eruptions, and I worry that flood basalts will be next.
The effects of large eruptions are EXTREMELY variable and not consistent (Just like the worst tornadoes!) for evidence just look at this table I borrowed from Albert’s article. (The -44 eruption has since been associated with Okmok.)
Samalas had more than 3 times the forcing of El Chichon but produced a lesser climate anomaly. Why wouldn’t the same rules apply for larger eruptions? Some flood basalts likely kill through global cooling, some through warming, and for some even both! That shows some variable that is not considered or known.
I am not saying that the scientific community has completely raised its lip towards volcanoes but it could easily go that way. Just because 536 happened doesn’t mean that it is the average and equally for weak anomalies like Samalas.
I think volcanoes are the second thought for most geological events, for most events, it is usually only mentioned in passing in favor of other potential causes. Such as an asteroid(Younger Dryas), Gamma ray-burst(Ordovician–Silurian extinction event) and even more poorly constrained events such as a clathrate gun. It is especially sad when even a flood basalt, the largest eruptions possible, is more likely to happen than the 3 of these. The only reason why this hasn’t happened with the Siberian traps is simply that there is no other major event readily apparent to take some credit and some still desire another explanation.
Tornadoes and volcanoes despite not having remotely connected mechanics but are equally mysterious in terms of the worst that these events can produce. Toning down hyperbole of the volcanoes is very important but there should be no dismissal of volcanoes as a reasonable threat to humanity and the ecosystem.
An unreasonably high estimation of a mysterious event is no worse than an unreasonably low estimation. In fact, in my eyes, it is better. When a category 5 hurricane is heading towards your city whether you decide to ride it out or evacuate, it is better to overestimate and survive then it is to underestimate and die or be ruined.