World's Tallest Geyser Erupts

With a thunderous roar, the world’s tallest geyser erupted on the morning of May 2, 2000 for the first time in more than eight years. Steamboat—in Norris Geyser Basin—blasted water 300 feet (30 stories!) into the air for about a half hour, then settled into a steam phase that reached hundreds more feet into the sky. During a major eruption, Steamboat ejects several hundred thousand gallons of water. Much of the water falls to the slope above the geyser and collects in torrents of mud, sand, and rock that rush back into the vent and are blown back out again and again. Water rushes downhill, carving wide gullies and washing away trees.

Most of Steamboat’s power comes from the steam that follows the eruption of water. Geysers release energy via steam and hot water. Some geysers release copious amounts of water but run out of energy before they run out of water. Steamboat, on the other hand, has so much energy that it cannot be dissipated by hot water alone and thus much steam is released.

After its massive eruption on May 2, Steamboat roared with steam for hours. The clouds billowed and condensed, falling as mist that shifted with the breeze. Water dripped off hoods and hats, benches and signs. People looked straight up and still could not see the top of the steam.

Steamboat’s massive eruptions were first recorded by Park Superintendent P.W. Norris:

“The new crater which burst forth in the Norris Geyser Plateau, with such upturning and hurling of rocks and trees, August 11, 1878, … seems this year to have settled down to business as a very powerful flowing geyser, having in common with many others, a double period of eruption, one some 30 feet high about each half hour, and another 100 feet and long continued, each 6 or 7 days, and is doubtless still changing.”

Will Steamboat blow again? No one knows. Even so, it’s still an impressive feature. The summer of 2000, Steamboat was splashing water higher than most of the park’s geysers. So stop by Norris Geyser Basin and check out Steamboat. As Yellowstone’s geyser observers like to say, “Go, Steamboat, Go!”

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