The news reports weren't what they expected. I mean, they were studying geology in their seventh grade class, somehow all together still after these few yet long years. But you never expected the news headlines to match what you were doing in class, even though that's often how it went. Now the seventh graders of Grebe Middle were facing this challenge, though none of them could believe it.
Their parents said they'd been expecting The Big One since even they were children, since their parents were children. "The West Coast is due for The Big One," they'd say, but people were beginning to think that was never going to happen. Earthquakes like that happened in other places, like Japan or Ecuador. They killed people in those other places, caused tsunamis in other places. They didn't happen in America.
Yet when they turned on the news that night, some during dinner, others before, and some after, they realized The Big One had happened, an 8.7-magnitude earthquake centered just east of the San Andreas fault line. Small towns were devastated either from the violent shaking or what came afterwards—gas line explosions, fires, and even a flood as one town's water tower came crashing down, the water going everywhere and taking several unsuspecting people with it. The death toll wasn't as high as experts expected, but the experts were talking about something else:
"Tonight as word comes of a large earthquake in California, scientists who dedicate themselves to studying Yellowstone National Park have ordered an evacuation of the park and surrounding areas, citing excess seismic activity they feel is linked to the fabled Yellowstone National Park supervolcano."
That word, "fabled," stuck out to a lot of people. A lot of people felt the supervolcano was a myth, but a lot of people believed in science as well, especially the Grebe Middle School seventh grade geology class. As they reported to class the next day, their teacher had the word written on the board, SUPERVOLCANO. Everyone was asked to take out a piece of paper and write their thoughts.
The teacher had to explain nothing. If you didn't watch the news when the story first broke, you'd somehow found out about it. #supervolcano had been trending since the story broke, but it was a 50/50 battle online between those who thought the scientists were exaggerating, that it was just another earthquake building or the Earth's crust reacting to the initial quake. But the other side felt this was an impending disaster. As students raised their hands, it was clear they felt this was an important disaster, something that people should take seriously. And most importantly, something people should prepare for.
"I think areas within a hundred miles of the supervolcano should be evacuated," Brain began, adding, "and in the meantime, the world needs to start preparing for several months, if not years of darkness, from the ash."
"But won't the entire continent explode?" Muffy countered from another table. "I mean, I know you're right about the ash, but would we even have to worry about it? Won't we all be dead?"
The teacher was about to step in, but Buster stepped in instead, "No, there are mountain ranges between here and the Midwest. That's enough structure to keep anything back, not that it would get that far. I think the Rockies would hold it back."
Muffy scoffed, hating to be countered (especially from a guy like Buster), "What do you know?"
"Actually, he has a valid point, Miss Crosswire," the teacher smiled, happy to see his planned lesson going so well. "Scientists feel most of the energy will only hit those northwestern mountains, and it would not expand too far through the Midwest. Either way, the Appalachians offer enough structure to keep it from spreading. As Brain suggested, we'll only have the aftermath to focus on."
"How bad is volcanic ash?" Arthur asked, his hand midair, though he spoke without being called on.
"Would anyone like to take a guess?" the teacher question.
Sue Ellen raised her hand and spoke, "I've read about theories saying ash is what really killed the dinosaurs. A meteor might have hit, but it was really the ash and debris filling the atmosphere, making it cold and hard to breathe, that killed the dinosaurs."
"Exactly. The ash, dust, and other debris goes into the atmosphere. The larger pieces rain down from the sky, probably damaging buildings and homes in the Midwest but this is not the biggest threat. The smaller particles get stuck until they can dissipate naturally. In small events, this takes maybe a month at most. But in an event like this—"
"It could last so long we go the way of the dinosaur?" Buster asked with a fearful tone. Brain muttered, "way of the dodo, not dinosaur," but Buster's comment was worded the way it was meant to be.
The teacher smiled, "Well what do you think? That's the point of this lesson."
"I think we're all in trouble, but I don't think we're going to die," Francine called out. "I mean, we can wear masks so the dust and ash doesn't hurt us, and we should have enough of a food supply of everything to make up for what we'll lose during the blast. I just really don't think it's going to be a major issue. It'll suck, but we'll be fine."
Sue Ellen shook her head, "I think we're in real trouble. If it only takes a year, yeah, we'll be fine. But two years? No, we definitely don't have enough for that if we can't replace the food. And we won't be able to, not easily. Planes won't be able to fly, and travel will be heavily impacted for other reasons. People are going to starve somewhere. It's just a matter of where."
As the bell rang, the teacher told them all this was a "wait and see" situation, but between his in-class discussion and the debates playing out nearly everywhere one turned, people were becoming more and more scared about what was to come.