1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Molasses Disaster

  1. Nov 29, 2014 #1

    I have a question about the Boston Molasses disaster.

    Eyewitnesses of this molasses flood speak of a preceding rush of wind that picked everything and everyone up (before engulfing them in molasses).


    The Boston Globe reported that people "were picked up by a rush of air and hurled many feet." Others had debris hurled at them from the rush of sweet-smelling air. A truck was picked up and hurled into Boston Harbor.


    Yet, when I look at the horrible footage from the 2004 tsunami, a person in swimming trunks is just stoically awaiting the wave, standing straight before it hits him.

    My questions being:

    - Would flowing molasses actually produce a powerful rush of air at 50km/h?

    - If so, why doesn’t water do this?

    Or was this rush of air probably caused by the ‘explosion’ of the ruptured tank? (Apparently, the rivets shot out, sounding like machine-gun fire.)

    Greetings and thanks

    other sources
    http://edp.org/molyank.htm (by John Mason Reprinted from Yankee Magazine (Dublin, New Hampshire: January 1965), pages 52-53 and 109-111.)

    The disaster took place in 1919 and molasses disasters are fairly scarce, so I guess there's not much scientific evidence to go on.

    (Edited on request.)
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 29, 2014 #2


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Welcome to the PF.

    Can you provide a link to the wikipedia article, and hopefully to some more mainstream scientific sources? Thanks.
  4. Nov 29, 2014 #3
    Sounds a bit dubious, but the rush of air was probably not due to the motion of the molasses, but due to gases which had built up during the fermentation processes. This could conceivable produce very strong "winds", aka a small explosion.
  5. Nov 30, 2014 #4


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    The molasses tank in the Boston disaster was approximately 50 feet tall and 90 feet in diameter. That's a tank which is approximately as tall as a 5-story building, collapsing all at once and releasing its contents.

    A tsunami, before it reaches shore, travels thru deep water almost imperceptibly. It's only when the disturbance reaches shallow water that large waves can develop. The 2004 tsunami, in some places, produced more of a surge of water which was a few feet deep on shore, rather than a large wave. Nevertheless, this surge of water was enough to collect debris after it came ashore and propel this debris ahead of it, causing damage to structures and injuring people caught in its path. The gentleman in your video was lucky; there were thousands who were not so fortunate.
  6. Nov 30, 2014 #5
    Thank you.

    Off course:
    No, he died. But he lived on his feet until the wave took him.

    So...I guess, in the case of an 'explosion', the rush of sweet air wouldn't have rounded the corner along with the flowing molasses.
  7. Nov 30, 2014 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Whether there was a rush of air at Boston in 1919 is pretty much irrelevant to that disaster. There was still reportedly millions of gallons of molasses discharged in a short amount of time which killed or maimed its victims. Being choked on molasses is not a pretty end for anyone.
  8. Dec 2, 2014 #7
    It's relevant to me.
    Thanks for the info.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook