What if a hurricane and volcanic eruption collided?

Based on RM Mentock’s comment in this thread, I got to wondering about the physical conflicts inherent to a collision between a hurricane and an erupting volcano and how the result might differ whether this happened at sea or on land. If needed to for the purpose of a comparable discussion, let’s assume a St. Helen’s stratovolcano style pyroclastic explosion and a Category 5 Andrew style hurricane, although any interesting perceptions about other types would be welcome too.

As far as the eruption goes, I’m certain that nothing the hurricane can throw at it will slow it down in the least and the only impact will be in the ash distribution patterns, especially with airborne debris but also with lahars and pyroclastic flows. Instead of a relatively uniformly declining distribution of debris away from the crater, you’d probably have the strong winds distributing the ash column much more widely but the abundant moisture in the center of the hurricane turning that column into a rapidly falling heavy rain of liquid ash. I’m guessing this would change the overall ash distribution from a somewhat linear distribution to one mose logarithymically concentrated closer to the crater.

As far as the volcano’s effect on the crater, might the heat from the eruption actually help fuel the hurricane’s winds? I’d think it would increase the short term strength of the hurricane but rapidly deplete the volume of rain available since it would come in contact with the ash and quickly fall to Earth.

I just thought it was an interesting scenario, am curious if at anytime throughout Earth’s history if this actually has happened and frankly, am somewhat surprised that Hollywood hasn’t already dreamed this one up.

Are you building the foundation for a fart joke here?

Would the heat build the energy or would the ash work to clog up the works and slow things down?

Btw, I felt this was better suited for General Question than IMHO since I was looking for discussion of the active physical and, if appropriate, chemical forces involved. I just found the possibilities of the eye of a large hurricane moving right over a St. Helens or Krakatoa too fascinating to leave unexplored.

Just some elements (speculations) about the interactions.

Ash injected into the clouds of a hurricane would encourage precipitation, reducing the structure that make hurricanes work as integrated weather systems. Over land, that would reduce the strength even more rapidly than normal for landed hurricanes. Over sea, of course ash is supplemented by steam and the same effect cannot be expected.

Another scenario, attributed to the impact of the dinosaur buster, is the existence of a volcanic vent in a large shallow body of water, such as the Gulf of Mexico. Volcanic heating can raise surface water temperatures very much higher than solar energy. The smaller area such a system would produce, together with the very high energy level could produce what some have called a “Hypercane.” Such a storm would develop much more quickly than a meteorological storm. It would be much smaller at first, and very much more tightly organized. As it grew, It would drift in the direction that steering winds of the upper atmosphere forced it. (Much as a regular hurricane does.) It would drift more rapidly, because of its smaller total mass. The heated water, still much more energetic than a solar produced hot water body would not be cooled to as great an extent as the sea is by surrendering its energy to the atmosphere. So, another hypercane would develop, and probably much faster than the production of meteorological storms.

It was contended (by the individual who proposed this explanation for the climate changes of the CT boundary period) that for hundreds of years after the impact, a series of these powerful storms formed, and drifted away from the impact site. This created a huge weather system of moving cyclones where none had existed before. World climate would be affected very strongly by such a dynamic. In the case where such a vent was in deep water, it is possible that the plume of hot water could change sea currents, and atmospheric conditions as well.


“If a person feels he can’t communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it.” ~ Tom Lehrer

In the above statement, is it implied that there woudl be a “hypercane” consisting of superheated water? Admittedly, I’m not a physicist or whichever scientist would presumably know about these things, but wouldn’t the energy be very rapidly dissipated into a relative huge surrounding heat sink (ocean, airmass)?

Also, is it implied that today’s hurricane season is a remnant of this cyclonic weather pattern?

As for the OP, I’d take the volcano. In three rounds.

BTW, Tris…I love the screen-name. My single favorite author in any genre.

Bah, was thinking one thing and typing another. Make that "As far as the volcano’s effect on the hurricane, might the heat from the eruption actually help fuel the hurricane’s winds?

Very interesting concept, Tris, of perpetual storm generation from such an cataclysmic event. I’d not heard that before.

The most explosive eruption of Pinatubo on June 15, 1991 happened to correspond with the passage of typhoon Yunya, though the center of the storm was maybe 100 miles from the mountain. The most obvious effect of the unusual juxtaposition was devastating mudflows, when recently erupted ash was washed away by the heavy rainfall.

As far as large-scale ash distribution, I doubt a hurricane would have much effect. Remember that weather occurs in the troposphere, the bottom 6-12 miles of the atmosphere. A volcano’s eruption column may easily reach well into the stratosphere. Pinatubo’s column reached a maximum of about 25 miles in the afternoon of the 15th, when the troposphere was only about 10 miles thick. The column didn’t decrease to less than 10 miles high until the next day.

Cancel that. It seems that the major cause of death from the Pinatubo eruption was roof collapse, caused by the combined weight of ash and water.

The dissipation into the heat sink happens by the process of evaporation, and convection. This is the same mechanism by which meteorological storms are generated. In the range of temperatures of the Atlantic, and Gulf it involves temperatures above 77 degrees for the surface water, and 80 degrees for the air. The flow from a subsurface, but shallow volcanic vent, if large enough, could provide temperatures well above 100 degrees for surface water temperatures, perhaps as high as 150 degrees. The surface area of this hot spot is much smaller than the region of the South Atlantic where meteorological storms develop. The energy comes into the system much faster, though, and so, the storms are smaller, more intense, and develop more quickly.

I don’t recall any such implication in the original article, but I cannot provide a cite, since I don’t remember where I read it.

Uh, you mean there is an author named Triskadecamus? News to me!


Michael Bay might want to option this thread.