Vacation In Lovely Iceland! But Mind Your Step – The Lava Might Sting a Little

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A couple of articles caught my eye over the past few days. The first was posted last Thursday, “New Icelandic Volcano Eruption Could Have Global Impact.” The second followed almost immediately on Friday, “Katla Volcano Eruption Fears Played Down by Icelandic Scientists and Tourism Officials.”

You see where I’m going, right? A potentially imminent, global impact-type of volcanic eruption in Iceland is being downplayed by Icelandic scientists and tourism officials. Who do you believe? Who wants your money? Who stands the most to gain (or lose)? Who is right? What do you do?

The Katla volcano erupting in 1918. Photo: Iceland Volcano and Earthquake Blog

Who do you believe? Indeed. On the one hand, scientists are saying (and have been saying) that a huge, likely catastrophic eruption is imminent. YourWeatherBlog has written here and here about the volatility of the Katla situation. On the other hand, the experts in-country are saying it’s no big deal. Are you a person of science or are you a chance-taker? I don’t think anybody is denying the potential for a major eruption. Most agree a major eruption is coming and many experts claim it’s well overdue. But what does that mean? The argument may come from the definition of imminent and what that definition means to different people. For example, what exactly is imminent in geological terms (years, decades, centuries?)? If you’re a person of science or one with faith in science you’re not likely in the midst of planning a trip to Iceland. Gamblers, however, know that the house doesn’t win every hand.

Who wants your money? The root of all evil is perhaps not money per se, but the lengths to which some people will go to separate you from your money. In fact, because we’re dealing with Iceland I’m reminded of the report, Financial Stability in Iceland, that — in 2006, just before the global financial crisis — lauded the rock-solid stability of the Icelandic financial system. It was later revealed that Frederic Mishkin was paid a consulting fee of nearly $134,000 by the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to author the report. Was the report fair and unbiased? It certainly has all the trappings of a one-sided report posing as truthful and — on the surface — unbiased. What about now? Might you raise an eyebrow knowing that tourist officials from Iceland are downplaying the potential of a catastrophic eruption in Iceland? Wouldn’t it make sense for them to lure you (and your money) to Iceland. Really, now more than ever, how could they not?

Who stands the most to gain (or lose)? As always, a subjective question but one with compelling arguments on either side. On the one hand, if you go to Iceland and there’s an eruption, you may die. There will be an eruption, but as Dirty Harry snarled, “Do you feel lucky, punk?” Yet even the experts aren’t sure when the eruption will occur. Many tourists will visit Iceland and nearly all of them will return unscathed. Tourism officials have no choice but to downplay the risk or their country may not host another tourist until the volcano eventually blows and they can put all this nonsense behind them.

Is that .45 Magnum filled with lava and toxic gas? It might as well be, but when will Katla pull the trigger? Photo: WarnerBros

Who’s right? If Katla erupts tomorrow, the geologists are right. If it erupts next year, are they wrong? And what about the tourism officials? They are right until the very moment Katla (or any other Icelandic volcano) erupts.

What do you do? Decisions, decisions. Once again, do you feel lucky? If you don’t feel lucky, stay home — but you might stay home for a few years — or more. Feeling lucky? Then by all means, pack your bags and visit Iceland. You’re betting that you can win a few hands before the house cleans up. Before you go: Buy travel insurance. Since Katla hasn’t erupted, insurance bought now should pay off for any volcano- or ash-related incidents like flight delays and additional nights in hotels. Read the fine print on your airfare. Though most airlines will rebook you or refund your ticket, make sure you know the details before you purchase as many travelers have yet to resolve their issues from the 2010 Eyjafjallajokull eruption, and some insurers are still debating if they should cover stranded passengers. You have medical insurance, right? Want to return to the U.S. immediately if you’re injured? Make sure your insurance covers an air ambulance.

What about me? I tend to side with the geologists. And since I haven’t been planning a vacation to Iceland I’m okay sitting on the sidelines and waiting it out. Someday however, I would indeed like to visit Iceland.

The entire point of ever-improving scientific prognosis is to minimize exposure and risk. Still, if you’re going to go storm chasing you better be prepared to run into a storm (hail video). If you’re going to the coast to see a great hurricane, you better be ready to get wet (Geraldo Rivera). And if you’re going to go to a place on the verge of a major, potentially catastrophic volcanic eruption, you better be prepared for the worst (eruption video).

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