Saturday morning Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted unexpectedly, sending apyroclastic flow streaming down the mountain. Many, though sadly not all, of the volcano’s hikers and visitors survived the eruption. Pyroclastic flows are fast-moving turbulent and often super-heated clouds filled with ash and poisonous gases. They can reach speeds of 700 kph and temperatures of 1000 degrees C. The usual gases released in a pyroclastic flow are denser than air, causing the cloud to remain near the ground. This is problematic for those trying to escape because the poisonous gases can fill the same low-lying areas in which survivors shelter. Heavy ashfall from the flow can destroy buildings or cause mudslides, and the fine volcanic glass particles in the ash are dangerous to inhale. The sheer power and scale of these geophysical flows is stunning to behold. Those who have witnessed it firsthand and survived are incredibly fortunate. For more on the science and history of Mount Ontake, see this detailed write-up at io9.