As we begin to examine the physical events that accompanied the arrival of the Messiah in the New World, we should return to a phrase from the previous verse: “…there arose a great storm, such an one as never had been known in all the land.” Assuming that the volcanic activity is triggered by some shift in the tectonic plates of this region, the volcanic activity would be accompanied by massive seismic activity as well. Kowallis notes that earthquakes “occur almost continuously during some eruptions (Bart J. Kowallis. “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi.” BYU Studies. 37, no. 3, 1997-98, pp. 155). Nibley has noted that great storms have been noted as precursors to massive earthquakes (Hugh Nibley. Since Cumorah. Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 1970, p. 263).
The “tempest” suggests high winds. The combination of “storm” and “tempest” would typically indicate rain as well, but none is noted, and indeed the indication of “exceedingly dry wood” (3 Nephi 8:21) rather suggests the absence of rain. (Russell H. Ball. “An Hypothesis concerning the Three Days of Darkness among the Nephites.” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 1993, 2:1).
Textual: Mormon gives Nephi as the source of this information. Even knowing that we have the record of an eyewitness, we must understand that the text is composed after the events, and after some accumulation of information.
“The diversity of phenomena and locales mentioned in the account in 3 Nephi is considerable, indicating that the event probably affected a fairly large area and that the writer must have waited and accumulated information from around the land before making his record; it is unlikely that he witnessed all of the events himself.” (Bart J. Kowallis. “In the Thirty and Fourth Year: A Geologist’s View of the Great Destruction in 3 Nephi.” BYU Studies. 37, no. 3, 1997-98, pp. 142).
Even as we see in the descriptions the accurate representation of an explosive volcanic eruption, we must remember that it is unlikely that all of these events took place in the same place, nor that the eruption itself took place in Bountiful. Nevertheless, the effects will be seen in that location. Several of these events deal with specific cities that were rather distant from each other, further supporting the idea that while we have a contemporary account, we also have an accumulated and post-event account.