Being modern, I checked the websites for CNN and The New York Times every few minutes to get updates on the ash cloud’s peregrinations. Not satisfied with the coverage by the media big boys, I Googled up a storm with entries like “volcano flight delays” and “volcano Heathrow schedules.” In all the coverage, misinformation, speculation, and fear mongering abounded. Once, I panicked when I read about horrific delays at Heathrow, only to discover that the entry was from 2010. One airline claimed that it sent up one of its planes, which encountered not a single speck of volcanic material. Rubbish, the authorities objected. They said that the test plane had flown in the wrong direction and it was possible that dangerous ash lurked around the stratosphere.
You Might Also Like
Explore This IssueSeptember 2011
Also By This Author
A look at Google images produced some nifty maps showing the projected movement of ash, with densities of particles plotted for every 500 meters of altitude every six hours. Unfortunately, this was all theory and, if a wind gusted in Reykjavík, the projections would go out the window. As you may remember from chaos theory, small perturbations can have a big impact on subsequent atmospheric events, with the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Borneo juicing up a hurricane in the Bahamas. Thinking about such an eventuality, I went into the backyard of my house to see if any butterflies flitted around. If I found one, I would have smacked it dead, lest the fluttering of its wings stir up a chain reaction that could propel ash toward London.
Over days of alternating worry, consternation, and incessant consultation with websites (I probably was responsible over 1,000 hits on sites that had something to do with volcanoes), Grímsvötn settled down, its small stack blown, and ash and soot dissipated to safe levels as it mostly fizzed and steamed. With some trepidation, my wife and I packed our bags and headed to the airport (Raleigh-Durham International Airport, we are big time), although I took a few days’ extra clothes in case Grímsvötn changed its mind and wanted another go at environmental spoiling. With me safely buckled into seat 17A, flight AA174 took off on time, leaving the swelter of Durham for the pleasant chill of London that the English quaintly call summer.
Culling Lessons from Natural Disaster
As in the case of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, there are many lessons that a natural disaster can teach although, honestly, getting stranded for a few days is not the worst thing that can be happen, especially if the stranding takes place in the Riviera or South Kensington. The analogies with catastrophic illness are, of course, very strong as I have previously written. I do not have any new insights on the occasion of Grímsvötn, but, still, the perspective of two possible calamities can reinforce understanding. Since the purpose of this column is to discuss EULAR, I will be brief. Here are a few lessons: