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Taal Volcano erupts in the Philippines: Past events and relation to climate in California

By Reginald Stanley. Posted January 14, 2020, 10:03 PM.



On January 12, the eruption of Taal Volcano in the Philippines began and remains ongoing. Evacuations quickly took place in the region as large ash columns were blown into the atmosphere. Prior to 2020, Taal Volcano last erupted in 1977. The most recent significant volcanic eruption in that part of the world was the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, also in the Philippines, in June 1991. All volcanoes in the Philippines lie on the western rim of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

The climate of the west coast of North America - California in particular - has experienced significant, although temporary changes in the several years following notable volcanic eruptions in the Philippines on numerous occasions in the 20th century. A direct casual link has yet to be proven between the two, however this story will examine past eruptions and changes experienced by California's climate following said eruptions during those years. These are not predictions, and any effects volcanic eruptions in the Philippines have on the climate of California - if there is any link at all - are not well understood.

Taal Volcano erupted a number of times in the 20th century - in 1911, 1965, a period of heightened activity between 1966 and 1969, 1976, and lastly 1977. Historical climate records from both Downtown Los Angeles and San Diego, display patterns of temperature and precipitation anomalies following each eruption. Rainfall records for Los Angeles and San Diego show enhanced, above-average rainy seasons during 1965-66, 1966-67, 1967-68, 1968-89, as well as 1977-78, 1978-79 and 1979-80. These rainy seasons took place immediately after and for several more years following Taal Volcano eruptions - however, the rainy seasons of 1911-12 as well as 1976-77 were either slightly below-average or otherwise unremarkable.

Mount Pinatubo erupted on June 15, 1991 and annual global temperatures dipped by 0.7°F over the following year. In Southern California, 1991 ended as the coolest year since 1975 in both Los Angeles and San Diego, and was followed by two above-average rainy seasons in 1991-92 and 1992-93 - effectively ending the previous drought which had lasted from 1986 through 1991. Any correlation appears to be weaker further north as records from Downtown San Francisco show much less dramatic changes, compared to further south. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.

An older, and much more extreme example would be the eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia (then Dutch East Indies) in August 1883. Both Downtown Los Angeles and San Diego went on to record their wettest rainy seasons ever in 1883-84 - a record which both stations still hold for their respective locations. This record rainfall also occurred despite the absence of an El Nino at the time. Unlike the 1991 Pinatubo eruption and Taal Volcano eruptions, however, the 1883 Krakatoa eruption was one of the deadliest and most destructive volcanic events in recorded history.

The eruption of Taal Volcano remains ongoing since January 12. No fatalities from the eruption have been reported as of January 14, although there was one injury from ashfall.

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