Shortly after 12:30 a.m. on June 6, the Earth began shaking and my phone began buzzing. A 5.8-magnitude earthquake near Lincoln rattled homes from western Montana to eastern Washington.
Although the recent tremor was the largest in decades, with 79 active fault lines in our state alone, earthquakes are not uncommon in the region. The reaction to them, however, is often extreme and coupled with predictions that the end of the world is upon us.
The disaster film “2012” didn’t help matters. The movie, which features actor John Cusack saving his family from a series of natural disasters, drew far more attention to the fact that Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano.
Now, when earthquakes swarm the region, dire warnings follow. And for some reason, British tabloids especially like to point out that we’re doomed. Last month, after a series of tremors hit the Yellowstone area, The Sun blared the headline: “ABOUT TO BLOW? Fears Yellowstone supervolcano that could cause 90,000 deaths may be about to erupt as it is hit by 400 earthquakes in just ONE WEEK”
Until later in the story in which scientists explain that number is “fewer than weekly counts during similar earthquakes swarms in 2002, 2004, 2008, and 2010.”
The Sun’s British counterpart, The Daily Mail, wrote in response to the Yellowstone quakes, “The recent activity has raised fears that the supervolcano is about to blow.”
Except in the next paragraph, The Mail acknowledges that experts say the risk of that happening is “low.”
The UK’s Express published a familiar story last year with an even direr headline: “Yellowstone about to blow? Scientists warning over SUPER-VOLCANO that would kill MILLIONS.”
Embedded in the online version of that story is a rather morbid poll question: “What will finish off mankind?” Potential answers include God, viral pandemics and nuclear war.
It’s unclear why the Brits continue to predict our imminent demise. On its website, the National Park Service explains the potential power of the active volcano below its surface. However, it makes for a bit drier read.
Some highlights from its “Frequently Asked Questions” page:
In regard to volcanic activity, is it safe to visit Yellowstone?
“Yes. Scientists do not have any indication of an imminent eruption, or any eruption, at this time.”
Well, that’s boring.
How much advance notice would there be of an eruption?
“Most scientists think that the buildup preceding a catastrophic eruption would be detectable for weeks and perhaps months to years.”
The Park Service must have forgotten to include the part about the millions dead.
None of this is to say that Montanans shouldn’t prepare for an earthquake. Nor is it to discount the possibility of a Yellowstone eruption. But the earthquake near Lincoln and the recent swarm of tremors in Yellowstone are not indicative of a coming apocalypse.
In fact, geologists were quick to point out that last week’s quake will not affect the supervolcano. That didn’t, however, prevent the UK’s Daily Star from making the connection and earning the award for scariest headline ever: “Yellowstone ready to blow? Huge earthquake rocks SUPERVOLCANO that could wipe out US.”
Excuse me if I don’t run for my life.