By adamg on Tue, 08/13/2013 - 10:31am
Scientific American breaks it down for us, explains why the nature of molasses made the flood far worse than if it had just been some rogue wave tearing through the inner harbor:
Molasses is a non-Newtonian fluid, which means that its viscosity depends on the forces applied to it, as measured by shear rate. Consider non-Newtonian fluids such as toothpaste, ketchup and whipped cream. In a stationary bottle, these fluids are thick and goopy and do not shift much if you tilt the container this way and that. When you squeeze or smack the bottle, however, applying stress and increasing the shear rate, the fluids suddenly flow. Because of this physical property, a wave of molasses is even more devastating than a typical tsunami.
H/t Martin Lieberman.