Alaskan Shares What It's Like Living Next to An Erupting Volcano

Pavlof Volcano, one of Alaska’s most active volcanoes, erupts on March 26, 2016, sending a plume of volcanic ash into the air. Credit: Colt Snapp / AP

A volcano eruption probably isn’t on the list of fears faced by most Americans, unless you saw Dante’s Peak and Volcano at a particularly sensitive moment in your life in 1997 and have had spooky dreams about ash and lava ever since. That being said, it’s a fascinating occurrence when you don’t have to be near it, so people’s eyes have been on Alaska’s Pavlof Volcano since a weekend eruption spewed ash east from the Alaska Peninsula into the middle of the state. Alaska is known for being both large and sparsely populated, but residents of Cold Bay, Alaska, a town 30 miles from Pavlof with a population of 108, got as close a front-row show to the fireworks as you’re going to want. We spoke with Chris (who declined to give us his last name), an employee of Cold Bay’s one grocery store/bar/liquor store, which also moonlights as the town's resident hotel, to see how things were on the ground in the shadow of Pavlof.

So what’s it like when a volcano erupts? Chris gave an audible shrug, noting that he’d seen four eruptions in his lifetime, and told us that the 2014 eruption “was a better show.” It’s mostly seeing ash clouds, “big tight clouds like you see in movies.” The better views come at night: “When it’s dark you can see the lava shooting up,” Chris told us.

So what else is there to do in Cold Bay if you’re not there to volcano watch? The town’s big tourist season goes from June to November and attracts all manners of fishing, for halibut and salmon, as well as bear hunters in the late summer and fall. Of course, if you’re more into the idea of looking at nature than shooting it, you can also go bird, otter, caribou, and even bear watching at the nearby Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, a 315,000 acre wilderness area that borders the town.

As for the winter? Feel free to drop in to Cold Bay, “if you like snow,” Chris said.

Of course, at the moment, you might find it hard to get up to Cold Bay if you want to witness the volcano show firsthand, since the giant ash clouds are grounding flights across the state, making it tough to get to Cold Bay’s single runway airport. Don’t worry, though, if you get down to Neuquen, Argentinab in the next couple of days, you might be able to catch Copahue’s eruption on the Chile/Argentina border. Even if you miss it, at least the weather will be warmer than Alaska’s.