Things Disaster Movies Always Get Wrong

We all love disaster movies! The cool special effects, the underdog stories, the underlying themes of hope. As cool as they are, they do tend to use misconceptions about natural disasters. This normally wouldn’t be an issue since Hollywood will always embellish but it’s important to know the true science behind these phenomena should you ever encounter them.

1) Pyroclastic flows will kill you almost instantly, you cannot survive a direct hit

Movies guilty of this: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Dante’s Peak

Pyroclastic flows exceed 100km/h and reach temperatures over 1,000°C. You definitely cannot outrun it in either car or on foot. The boiling hot toxic gas, ash, and lava in the flow will kill you instantly and pummel your smoking corpse into oblivion. Sorry, Chris Pratt.

2) Tsunamis do not crest, they are more like a sudden flood than a wave

Movies guilty of this: Literally any movie with a tsunami ever

Tsunamis are massive and sudden floods caused by the displacement of ocean water due to earthquakes or massive landslides. They’re not tidal waves and thus do not crest. It’s poetic, but inaccurate.

3) Hail is always spherical and doesn’t fall in big cinder blocks of ice

Movies guilty of this: The Day After Tomorrow

Hail can get quite large and can definitely be fatal, but they are exclusively spherical. Hail is formed by water droplets cycling through the updrafts of a thunderstorm and the rotational movements make the resulting hail a ball.

Looks more like a stage hand is throwing the remains of an ice swan than a hail storm

4) You cannot freeze instantaneously. Not even in space.

Movies guilty of this: The Day After Tomorrow, Geostorm, The Cloverfield Paradox, Sunshine

Space, and certain places on Earth, can get exceedingly cold. The coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was −89.2 °C. That’s damn cold. But you still wouldn’t flash freeze into a peoplesicle within mere seconds. Intense cold can kill you quickly if you’re completely exposed but it would still take time before your body would be a thoroughly frozen chunk of meat. As for space, it can get quite cold, but it’s also an empty vacuum. There’s nothing around you but empty void, which means there’s also nothing to transfer your body heat away from you. Without convection, your body heat would be lost via radiation and that can take a long time.

5) Earthquakes over 10 on the Richter scale are physically impossible on Earth.

Movies guilty of this: 10.5

You would need a massive fault line to carry that sort of energy. Something on the scale of going through the earth’s core. Which does not exist . Even then, if such an earthquake would occur, the planet would literally explode.A 15 magnitude earthquake would release energy on the magnitude of 1x10^32 joules. That, coincidentally, is the same amount of energy contained in the gravitational binding of the Earth. Simply put, anything greater than 9.9 on the Richter scale is impossible and would cause the Earth to explode.

6) California will and can not sink into the Pacific like a big slab, and it can’t break away from the rest of the US.

Movies guilty of this: 2012, 10.5

Most movies cite the San Andreas fault as the reason for the cleavage, but even this isn’t enough. The San Andreas fault is a transform fault, meaning the North American plate and the Pacific Plate are slowly horizontally grinding past each other, not pushing away. As California is a part of the greater Pacific plate, it literally could not snap free from it to “sink into the sea”. Because if the entire tectonic plate underneath California where to flip over and sink then the entire ocean would drain away into the mantle.

7) You can’t sink in lava. You also can’t stand near it without being burned.

Movies guilty of this: Volcano, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

Lava is molten rock, and is incredibly dense. In fact, it’s three times as dense as humans, who are mostly water. If you were to cannonball into a lava pit, you would dip in a bit before bouncing to the top and floating. You would also burn up and die super quickly. Because fresh lava can exceed 1,200°C! Even standing a couple feet away from a lava flow, you would feel the intense heat radiation. You would lose your eyebrows and probably the top layer of your skin if you stood too close. There’s a reason why volcanologists wear protective suits. Sam and Frodo would have been roasted.

General public warning:

If you see someone selling off a mineral under the trade name Chrysotile,Crocidolite, Tremolite, Actinolite, Anthophyllite, Amosite  or quartz with asbestos inclusion please don’t risk your health by buying it. It doesn’t matter what the company may claim, all forms of asbestos are equally harmful and can cause lung cancer. 

Lately I have seen asbestos under this trade name, tigerseye crocidolite is an exception to this as the fibers have been replaced by iron oxides. Tremolite in its fibrous form is literally asbestos so please be aware when buying. 

Our nation’s first national monument, Devils Tower was established on this day in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Unforgettable to all who see it, this ancient volcanic column rises above the rolling grasslands in eastern Wyoming like a sentinel. Northern Plains Tribes have lived and held ceremonies near this remarkable geologic formation for thousands of years, and today, many tribes continue to hold traditional ceremonies at the park. The rock tower was called “Bear’s Lodge” and “Bear’s Tipi” by the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Crow and Lakota tribes. Made famous in the 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the monument holds an undeniable attraction to many people. Photo by National Park Service.