Mount St. Helens
Washington / View all Parks
Easily one of the places I wanted to visit most in my lifetime was Mount St. Helens Volcano in Washington. I’ve always been transfixed on all the stories that came out of the disaster and if there’s been a documentary on it you can bet I’ve seen it.
The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, a stratovolcano located in Washington, in the United States, was a major volcanic eruption. The eruption was the only significant one to occur in the contiguous 48 US states since the 1915 eruption of Lassen Peak in California. The eruption was preceded by a two-month series of earthquakes and steam-venting episodes, caused by an injection of magma at shallow depth below the volcano that created a huge bulge and a fracture system on Mount St. Helens’ north slope.
Prior to the eruption, USGS scientists convinced local authorities to close Mount St. Helens to the general public and to maintain the closure in spite of pressure to re-open it; their work saved thousands of lives. An earthquake at 8:32:17 a.m. PDT on Sunday, May 18, 1980, caused the entire weakened north face to slide away, suddenly exposing the partly molten, gas- and steam-rich rock in the volcano to lower pressure. The rock responded by exploding a hot mix of lava and pulverized older rock toward Spirit Lake so fast that it overtook the avalanching north face.
An eruption column rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states. At the same time, snow, ice and several entire glaciers on the volcano melted, forming a series of large lahars (volcanic mudslides) that reached as far as the Columbia River, nearly 50 miles to the southwest. Less severe outbursts continued into the next day only to be followed by other large but not as destructive eruptions later in 1980. Fifty-seven people (including innkeeper Harry R. Truman, photographer Reid Blackburn and geologist David A. Johnston) perished. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland causing over a billion U.S. dollars in damage ($2.74 billion in 2011 dollars), thousands of game animals killed, and Mount St. Helens was left with a crater on its north side. At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by the Burlington Northern Railroad, but afterward the land passed to the United States Forest Service. The area was later preserved, as it was, in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
As I was staying for a few days up on Mt. Rainier National Park [also a volcano in the same chain] I had a little time to kill one day as it was literally white-out conditions. It was only a few hours away, so I headed over there for the day. Unfortunately it was also extremely foggy & rainy at Mount St. Helens as well so there was no seeing of the mountain to be had. There were still remnants of the eruption however that took place on May 18th, 1980 over 30 years ago. Decaying trees and river beds covered in ash were all over the area and the park service were trying to preserve the park in the same condition as when the eruption happened. While there has been plenty of growth since the eruption happened, I have to say the weather made the place extremely eerie. Hopefully next time I head back I’ll get a little sun, got to love that Pacific Northwest rain.
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