in a volcanic eruption, a fluidized mixture of hot rock fragments, hot gases, and entrapped air that moves at high speed in thick, gray-to-black, turbulent clouds that hug the ground. The temperature of the volcanic gases can reach about 600 to 700 C (1,100 to 1,300 F). The velocity of a flow often exceeds 100 km (60 miles) per hour and may attain speeds as great as 160 km (100 miles) per hour. Flows may even travel some distance uphill when they have sufficient velocity, which they achieve either through the simple effects of gravity or from the force of a lateral blast out of the side of an exploding volcano. Reaching such temperatures and velocities, pyroclastic flows can be extremely dangerous. Perhaps the most famous flow of this type occurred in 1902 on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, when a huge nuee ardente ("glowing cloud") swept down the slopes of Mount Pelee and incinerated the small port city of Saint-Pierre, killing all but two of its 29,000 residents
Learn more about pyroclastic flow with a free trial on Britannica.com.