How Likely is a Yellowstone Supervolcano Eruption?

There’s a snarky little article over at The New Yorker called The Yellowstone Supervolcano Goes Viral. The author, George Black, makes fun of several different survivalist websites for their recent postings on the Yellowstone volcano and the possibility of an eruption. I can see his point, that some sources are exaggerating the likelihood of an eruption anytime soon. In particular, there was a viral video of Bison in Yellowstone, misrepresented as if they were fleeing for their lives in advance of an eruption.

But then Black undermines his own article in the last two paragraphs. First, he admits that the USGS “projections of what an eruption would do are almost as grisly as the doomsday types might imagine — most of the United States blanketed in ash, weather patterns disrupted, air transportation and electronic communications shut down, and ‘major climate effects.’ ” I’m not sure if I fit into the category of doomsday-types, but I’ll reply anyway. A major eruption at Yellowstone would easily qualify as an end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) event. And a recent study (which I’ll cover in a subsequent post) confirms it. So it really would be worse than what anyone can imagine.

Second, Black puts the odds of a supervolcano eruption at Yellowstone in this century at one in a thousand (1:1000). WTF?!! I had no idea it was that likely! If we divide that down to the odds in any 10 year period, it would be 1 in 10,000. Could that be right? Black asserts that this figure comes from the USGS, but I could not confirm it.

I was discussing this topic with Butch and he pointed out that if the lottery had 1/1000 odds, he’d definitely but a ticket. Here are some other events and their odds, for comparison:

1 in 5 million — the odds of dying from a bee sting (Bee Sting Facts)

1 in 4.7 million — the odds of dying on a single airline flight with any of the 78 major world airlines
1 in 2.0 million — the same odds if you are flying on one of the 39 airlines with the worst safety record !! (Plane Crash Info)

1 in 960,000 — the yearly risk of being struck by lightning
1 in 12,000 — the lifetime risk of being struck by lightning (

1 in 3,042 — the lifetime risk for a male of dying from breast cancer
1 in 37 — same risk for a female (American Cancer Society)

not zero — the odds of a real-life Sharknado (Mother Jones)

More on the Yellowstone topic in my next post.

– Thoreau

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