Pyroclastic flow might just be the scariest thing about a volcanic eruption. It is composed of superheated gas (1800 degrees Fahrenheit) and rock debris that moves at speeds of up to 450 mph down the side of the mountain… like a burning, molten rock avalanche.
A pyroclastic flow (also known as a pyroclastic density current or a pyroclastic cloud) is a fast-moving current of hot gas and volcanic matter (collectively known as tephra) that flows along the ground away from a volcano at average speeds of 100 km/h (62 mph) but is capable of reaching speeds up to 700 km/h (430 mph). The gases and tephra can reach temperatures of about 1,000 °C (1,830 °F).
Pyroclastic flows are the most deadly of all volcanic hazards and are produced as a result of certain explosive eruptions; they normally touch the ground and hurtle downhill, or spread laterally under gravity. Their speed depends upon the density of the current, the volcanic output rate, and the gradient of the slope.Pyroclastic flows that contain a much higher proportion of gas to rock are known as “fully dilute pyroclastic density currents” or pyroclastic surges. The lower density sometimes allows them to flow over higher topographic features or water such as ridges, hills, rivers and seas. They may also contain steam, water and rock at less than 250 °C (482 °F); these are called “cold” compared with other flows, although the temperature is still lethally high. Cold pyroclastic surges can occur when the eruption is from a vent under a shallow lake or the sea. Fronts of some pyroclastic density currents are fully dilute; for example, during the eruption of Mount Pelée in 1902, a fully dilute current overwhelmed the city of Saint-Pierre and killed nearly 30,000 people