Eruptions


Mt. Saint Helens erupting in 1980.

As many of you might (or might not) now, we’re heading towards the 30th anniversary of the dramatic eruption of Mt. Saint Helens in Washington state. Now, I could fill a book with the information out there on the volcano and the eruption, but instead, I think it would be more interesting to get your takes on the eruption. I have to admit, I was all of three when the eruption occurred, so my memories of the event are hazy at best, but if you have any memories, reactions or thoughts you want to share on the events leading up to the eruption, the eruption itself and the aftermath, please email them to me at i-84cc6bc3cf2966742ba05c49f79ef53a-email.jpg.

I will compile them for a post commemorating the May 18, 1980 eruption.

Comments

  1. #1 motsfo
    April 30, 2010

    You were 3?
    i have children older than You.
    Best!motsfo

  2. #2 Ron Badley
    April 30, 2010

    I lived in Washington state north of Seattle near a town called Mt Vernon. As a hiker I had often been in the area of St Helens and camped. Prior to the main eruption the mountain had ‘warmed up’ for a time. I have some photos of this while the mountain was spewing but still mostly intact.

    The Thursday before the eruption I had traveled from my home with intentions of camping north of the mountain and taking more photos. The weather turned cloudy so I stayed with some friends in Seattle, thinking photos might not work out.- We went on a bender that Friday night thus Saturday morning I was feeling a bit hung-over. The weather had not cleared and I then decided to bag it and head for home.

    Sunday morning at about 9 AM a knock on my door and my neighbor exclaiming “DId you Hear IT? St Helens blew up!” After watching the TV I discovered I had missed the photos and sight of my life in not continuing my trip. The day had dawned remarkably clear at that too,

    Cheers,

    RW

  3. #3 John H. McDonald
    April 30, 2010

    Correction to your post–the eruption was on May 18, 1980, not May 17.

  4. #4 Erik Klemetti
    April 30, 2010

    John – Thanks for catching that! My mistake … and it is fixed.

  5. #5 robert somerville
    April 30, 2010

    i was living on acreage in the lower mainland of B.C. (Maple Ridge) I was woken up by the sound which was apparently refracted by an atmospheric inversion from St. Helens to B.C. . I was reading somewhere that the sound was the noise of the crypto-dome hitting Spirit Lake . Several of my working buddies also heard it .. I thought somebody was blasting stumps not too far away

  6. #6 GT McCoy
    April 30, 2010

    I was living in the Richland Wa. Area at the time,we didn’t get hit much by the ashcloud, but it looked like the scene out of De Mille’s “Ten Commandments”. I had just flew a USGS Mission from Longview Wa. the day previous. and was not liking what the Goat Rocks looked like.-Obvious Deformation.

  7. #7 tbell1
    April 30, 2010

    I was at a boy scout camp somewhere east of Yakima. We heard ‘thunder’ that morning, and the scoutmasters started rounding people up to leave camp (I believe we were meant to leave that day anyway). As we were milling around the buses getting ready to leave, ash started coming down. I remember being fascinated and holding out my hand to let it catch the ash. The scoutmaster with us insisted that it was just ‘snow’. I think that I questioned this, and he insisted that it was ‘snow’ and that we needed to get on the bus. I realize now that he was just losing his shit, and was panicking and trying to get his scouts on the bus. But at the time, I don’t think i’d ever heard such a blatant contrary to obvious fact lie in my life, that wasn’t some kind of joke. I was actually furious most of the way home and I quit the scouts the next week, (something that had probably been building anyway, as I also quit the church at about the same time). I absolutely cannot stand being lied to, for any reason, which makes science a decent fit for me, but makes reading the news an ordeal.

  8. #8 birdseyeUSA
    April 30, 2010

    My folks were living in Bellevue, WA., Dad teaching at UW. My mother said that she was idly swimming in the lake and realized suddenly what she was seeing to the south…beat all records in getting back to the house. A friend was some long time later at work in the Palouse and was affected by the ash.

  9. #9 M. Randolph Kruger
    April 30, 2010

    I was between assignments in the military and here in Memphis at home during the January following this. It was COLD and we had taken hits from snowstorm after snowstorm.

    I was at a bar called Benigans and the word went out-clear the streets of your abandoned cars, or we will ! Reason given was that the danger of a firestorm was starting to grow as fires broke out from people trying to keep themselves warm would space heater this, throw kerosene into the fireplace that. Dumb but yeah it was happening cause it was zero.

    There is a place in East Memphis called Germantown…Beverly Hills East if you will and there were hundreds of abandoned cars on the three main veins that went east. Porches, Mercedes, BMW’s and naturally ordinary Chevy’s and Fords. So they gave them til six to get them off the roads…They didnt cause they were buried in snow and ice. Yep a foot of packed snow into ice at that.

    So along about 6 and after I had tankered myself off with about the 5th shot of vodka of the night I see one of those old police Plymouth Fury’s that you saw on CHIPS back in the 70′s. Full metal rack on the front, snow chains, and its rolling towards a bridge where the cars had collected cause those bridges and overpasses go first right?

    There is a kid in there of about 25 and I can tell he is on a mission from God. That mission? Clear the streets of all vehicles not moving. So, with his state of emergency declaration under his belt and of course his seat belt fastened he took the first one like a 16 year old who had been plied with corn liquor and fast talk by a 20 year old.

    WHAAAAAAAAM ! He got the first one and he hit it amidships like a torpedo and man I never knew a Volvo could take so much. Moderate damage and it slid up to the curb and then over it onto the sidewalk. Instantly there was an audience. Kid lines up on a Porche next and it it in the tail and it did about 4 spins and it too was up on the curb much worse the wear. I bet it was 20,000 for starts to fix that. Onward he pummelled into the night, taking no heed but for one thing and that was to clear the road. I moved out onto the sidewalk and stopped at the liquor store as he progressed because this was too much fun to watch. I had to follow him. So for about every 5th car, I took a shot of vodka and along about car 25 or 30 I was smashed. But I stayed with him. By now he was at the Holiday Inn and a lot of the people from the freeway and G’town had not gotten the word and they were the ones who had lots of cars out there. I saw one guy with a load of groceries turn purple as he realized what was about to happen to his car but …errrrrnrnnngngggghhhhh toooooo late bubba. There goes a Chevy 2500 4 speed dual wheel truck. History….Radiator, front end, both front panels. Gone…. Within minutes this was on the news and of course the helicopters were up sending pictures…. It wasnt but another 30 minutes before the kid had received all the fun and recognition he was going to get.

    But it was sure fun to have a class warfare experiment from a volcanic eruption 1800 miles away.

  10. #10 doug mcl
    April 30, 2010

    I had just started working for Boeing in Kent a few months earlier. That day of the eruption I was hiking with my soon-to-be-wife on granite mountain near snoqualmie pass. We hadn’t heard about the eruption, but noticed how dirty brown the sky became towards the east as the day progressed. My friend Steve was climbing on Mt. Adams and as the ash column rose up in the sky the air became so charged that their metal ice axes becan to hum and spark. Days spent glued to the TV watching scenes of the lahar, mudflow, rescues. No widespread internet with live streaming then, you had to wait for the evening news shows. Weeks earlier, the debate on whether the reopen the area for recreation got people very excited, not unlike the recent “let us fly again” discussion in Europe. Then when the blast came and so many people were killed, some started accusing the state authorities of being lax by not forcibly evacuating people. Up in Seattle we were able to collect a bit of fine pumice from our porch after one of the subsequent eruptions, but never more than that. It launched a lifetime interest in eruptions for me. I still regret not having climbed St. Helens to it’s pre-eruption summit, but if Baker, Rainier or Glacier peak loose their tops I’ll be able to say “I knew her when she was taller”. Mt Adams seemed too long a drive back then and now my poor lungs limit my climbing to only flat low elevation mountains

  11. #11 Glrnn Gouldey
    April 30, 2010

    My company transferred me from NJ to Beaverton, Oregon in early May of 1980 and I spent all my free hours as close to Mt St Helen’s as possible as I wanted to photograph the eruption. There was continued coverage of the mountain bulging the days proceeding the eruption so there was a good idea it would erupt soon and most probably from the area that was bulging. I was in a hotel off I5 just south of the Washington boarder when the volcano erupted Sunday morning May 18. I rushed up I5 and photographed the eruption near Kalama, Wa. For a short period the ash was in a perfect mushroom cloud which I photographed before the jet stream started pushing it east toward Yakima. I went further up I5 in Washington State photographing wherever there was a good view. I spent the day traveling all around the west side of Mt St Helens. When I went to head back south I found myself trapped north of the Tuttle River. So much material had accumulated into Spirit Lake and down the rivers the I5 crossing was closed to traffic as the rivers had taken out the smaller bridges just east of I5. Mt St Helens shot another large ash cloud around June 20 which went more southwest and gave us a covering of ash in the Portland metro area. People were instructed to wear surgical masks until it settled days later. Another ash cloud occurred in July but neither were the power of the May 18 eruption. I spent most of the summer weekends of 1980 around and in the Red Zone photographing and collecting ash and other samples.

  12. #12 Paul
    April 30, 2010

    I was living in Virginia, a freshman in college. My best friend from HS went to the University of Washington. All I wanted was a vial of ash. But no, he gave it to a hot chick he met in a bar outside Springfield, Illinois. I’m still pissed.

  13. #13 Mike Matney
    April 30, 2010

    I was 14 at the time and I lived in the coastal mountains of Oregon, between Eugene and Florence. I had spent the night at a friends house and we were out feeding the chickens when we heard a series of loud noises. It sounded like dynamite blasts which weren’t that uncommon in the area as logging roads were being built all the time. The thing that made it unusual though was that it was a Sunday morning and no road building was going on at the time. My friend and I remarked, jokingly that it must have been Mt. St. Helens finally blowing its top. When we finished feeding the chickens we went inside and his mom told us the the news, that it had blown.

  14. #14 Gijs de Reijke
    April 30, 2010

    I wasn’t exactly around when St. Helens blew, but I’ve always been fascinated by the volcano. I find these personal stories very interesting, especially the stories of those who made pictures of the event. If you haven’t already, maybe you can send them to Erik as well, so he can post them together with your stories? ‘Glrnn Gouldey’ (comment #11) for example :-) .

    Thanks!

  15. #15 M. Randolph Kruger
    April 30, 2010

    OT-4.1 quake at Iliamna in AK. 6.3 and 6.6 quakes between AK and Russia in the Bering Sea.

  16. #16 Mike
    May 1, 2010

    I was 10 at the time, living in suburban Portland, roughly 60 miles from the volcano. Since at least a year beforehand, I’d been interested enough in volcanoes to check out USGS publications on the Cascades from the local library, and I’d worn out my own copy of Harris’s “Fire & Ice,” so obviously I was excited when Mt. St. Helens began erupting in March, 1980. On the morning of Sunday, May 18 I was at a neighbor’s house when his mother told me that Mt. St. Helens was blowing up big time — we’d heard nothing. I rushed home, turned on the TV, and saw the massive mudflow churning down the Toutle River. It was overcast in Portland for much of the day, so for quite a while the only footage was of bridges getting wrecked, etc., and there was nothing to see from the city. But it cleared later, and my family went up onto a hill late in the day to witness the ongoing eruption. The mountain I knew seemed half gone; ash boiled 10 miles into the sky. I think my parents had a hard time pushing me back into the car to go home.

  17. #17 George
    May 1, 2010

    I was on a boat near Reedsport, Oregon when the volcano went off. We actually heard the boom, thought it was the fuel dock exploding again. (Long story…) When we found out that it was Helens we were amazed at how far away we had heard it. THere was this crazy guy who was a media hero for staying through the evacuation, he died of course (along with some scientists.)

    A college friend of mine had been in Portland during the eruption. He had gone in to see an afternoon movie (Star Wars? memory is hazy) and when he came out it was pitch black.

    My Uncle and his friends shared a lawnmower (Portland) to try to get the ash off of the grass. They knew it would trash the mower so they all pitched in for a replacement. Cleaning the gutters was apparently an absolute chore.

    I have a beautiful glass bowl made from Helens glass.

    In Eugene we got a light dusting of ash a few times, enough to mess up the cars. Getting it off without scratching the paint (my Dad is very particular about cars) was next to impossible. Although hosing was ineffective, a series of strong rainstorms seemed to help.

    We had a TRS-80 computer that we were very concerned about (my Dad taught statistics at the University) so we always sealed it up really well when we left the house for awhile. We also had multiple air filters for the cars.

  18. #18 Henrik, Swe
    May 1, 2010

    Geoerge, do you refer to old Harry Truman, immortalised by R.W.Stone in this song?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGwa3N43GB4

  19. #19 natural cynic
    May 1, 2010

    I was a graduate student at Washington State in Pullman, directly in the line of the ash cloud as it moved eastwards. I lived east of town on the Moscow-Pullman highway and that morning I watched part of an NBA playoff game in the morning and news bulletins that the mountain had blown interrupted the broadcast. I had duties in our animal room to take care of that afternoon, so I thought that I should get them done as soon as possible. As I rode my bike west towards campus, it was a bright sunny day, but it looked like a massive thunderstorm was moving eastwards dark, billowing clouds in the sky about 20 degrees above the horizon. I had the radio on and was listening to the reports and by the time I had finished most of my work and had a chance to look outside, it was after 2 PM and it was getting very dark. I walked to the student union to see what was going on and to see what was on TV. A whole lot of people were in a state near panic since no one knew about the toxicity of the ash. I returned to the lab and made sure that all windows were closed and I found a supply of standard filter masks and returned to the Student Union and handed them out to anyone who wanted one as they were exiting the building. As it turned out, no one needed them that badly.

    The most vivid recollection that I had was being outside at 3 in the afternoon and almost the whole sky was pitch black. The only natural light was a thin band on the eastern horizon appearing to be grey-streaked orange-red.

    Not being sure of my own safety I decided not to pedal home, so I just did a lot of studying and crashed in my office that night. In the morning the sun was shining through a low-lying haze and the ground was covered with about 2-3 inches of grayish beige dust. There was almost no traffic moving and any vehicle that moved was trailed with an ash plume. There were warnings to drive at 5 mph to keep the dust to a minimum. By noon, it was obvious that things were not going to be normal the rest of the semester. There had been a run on beer at the local markets. Many classes were cancelled for the week, but we grad students just carried on as if little had happened – we were preparing to go en masse to a scientific meting later that week. When we got back, it had been decided that anyone could go home early and would receive as a final grade the grade that they had before the ashfall.

    Pullman is surrounded by wheat and dry pea fields and the ash apparently helped seal the moisture in the soil, leading to a bumper crop. The farmers were happy, except for the fact that that they had to go through many extra air filters on their combines.

  20. #20 Peter Carlton
    May 1, 2010

    My sister and I were playing in our backyard in West Seattle when we heard the boom.
    I was 6 years old. I remember lots of phone calls with our relatives in Yakima, watching footage on TV, and bitterly wishing that the wind had been blowing towards us so our school would close too.

  21. #21 Brian X
    May 1, 2010

    I was four when it happened, so I only remember that I did hear about it when it happened, but I have no direct memories.

    My actual memory of it is a lot closer to my heart — my grandfather had set me up just about then with a subscription to National Geographic which is still maintained to this day, and the NatGeo article on Mount St. Helens is probably my first memory of what actually happened. (Yes, I learned to read early.) To this day, I most vividly remember being struck by two things: Harry R. Truman refusing to leave his Spirit Lake Lodge, foolishly convinced that the mountain wouldn’t kill him, and Reid Blackburn’s death in the blast, and the subsequent discovery of his ash-covered car and the bizarre, dust-damaged photos of the eruption that were salvaged from his camera.

    NatGeo just published a 30-year retrospective. It seems a strange thing to be sentimental about, but as horrific as it is, that article is one of my most cherished memories from my childhood. Oddly enough, a year or two after the NatGeo article, I received a volcano book from a family member as a gift that had a picture of Mount St. Helens before the blast. At the time I thought it had to be another mountain because the one in the book was cone-shaped and pristine, not horseshoe-shaped and wasted… it was a few years before I understood the concept of publishing date.

  22. #22 mike don
    May 1, 2010

    Being about 7000 miles away from Mt St Helens I don’t have any personal experiences; my only abiding memory is blagging my way to a friend’s living room to watch a news item on the eruption with those famous time-lapse photographs. (I didn’t have a TV of my own)

    “I have a beautiful glass bowl made from Helens glass.”
    George: saw that comment and was struck by the odd coincidence, the UK town called St Helens, in Lancashire, is famous for…glassmaking!

    Ron: you were intending to go camping north of St Helens that weekend? That hangover probably saved your life

  23. #23 Tsu Dho Nimh
    May 1, 2010

    I was living in Mexico – a country with high volcano awareness – and the initial media reaction made it sound like the entire Pacific Northwest had been annihilated by something the size of Krakatoa. Pity there was no Internet, because being able to check with the USGS and volcano labs would have put the kibosh on many of the rumors.

    One of my cousins lives in Montana, in the path of the ash cloud, and he said it moved in like a slow thunderstorm, but slightly gritty, . The wheat harvest that fall was superb.

  24. #24 John M
    May 1, 2010

    I was living in Everett, WA (30 miles north of Seattle, ~150 miles north of Mt. St. Helens). I was sleeping against the south wall of the house and awoke to what sounded like two sonic booms. Once we learned what was going on, my girlfriend and I drove and hiked to the summit of Mt. Pilchuck from which we had a pretty good view of the plume. The second big eruption a month or two later was much more spectacular from the Seattle area (the plume rose a lot higher as I recall).

  25. #25 Mike
    May 1, 2010

    @17, no ash fell in Portland on May 18 — only on May 25 during a subsequent eruption, and lightly at that. The only time it went pitch black in the middle of the day was during the solar eclipse in ’79. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAacZoIJUN0

  26. #26 Guillermo
    May 1, 2010

    Remember it is the 2nd anniversary of Chaitén eruption.

  27. #27 Monika
    May 2, 2010

    I’ve been learning English at the time of the eruption that I could only see on TV. But for helping my English I had a subscription on NatGeo magazine with the help of a friend living in Canada (from Hungary it was impossible to subsribe in those years) so I met the eruption in the magazine with the big article. (You can find it in the archives: http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/1981/01/mount-st-helens/findley-text/1

  28. #28 Nick
    May 2, 2010

    I was living in Richland, WA and except for the fact we had a 10 month old daughter would never have been up that early on a Sunday morning. We were futzing around in the kitchen, making breakfast, and I was looking out the East-facing window trying to decide if I needed to mow the lawn before our afternoon visitors arrived. There was a “Boom!” that I attributed to being a sonic boom, which are quite common in this high-desert area of Eastern Washington.

    Some hours later I was out mowing our large lawn with an unpowered mower – my youthful bow to the need for hard physical exercise. I was finished with all but the front yard when I noticed ominous looking clouds coming from the West. It had been a beautiful, sunny, warm day, so I assumed we were in for a major thunderstorm and started running while mowing. A neighbor family came out on their porch and the man asked why I was working so hard on a Sunday. I replied that I wanted to finish before it started raining and he laughed and told me it was the ash cloud from Mount St. Helens.

    Later, as the plume was directly overhead, I took some great pictures of the billowing cloud. We had between a sixteenth and an eighth inch of ash, and I collected some. It became quite gloomy that day, with the ash cloud overhead, and I seem to recall an abnormal quietness: e.g. no birds chirping, very little of the normal traffic.

    Monday at work people had great stories: The friends who had been climbing Mt. Adams and were starting down the other side by the time of the eruptions so had missed it; a co-worker’s daughter who was driving between home and Pullman (Washington State University) in an area that received a lot of ash who pulled over to the side of the road and started crying inconsolably – she thought there had been a nuclear war.

    For years afterwards, on frequent trips between Richland and Seattle, 200 miles away, one could pick out places along the road where significant deposits of ash had fallen.

  29. #29 Rodger Wilson
    May 2, 2010

    First, I thank God for my parents who nurtured my interest in volcanoes since an early age, six to be exact! There wasn’t a volcanic area in the American west that we didn’t visit at least once before I turned into a terrible teen (…weekend and summer camping trips that my younger sister, who was definitely not into volcanoes, quietly endured!,…Thank you Cindy!). At that age, just knowing that the white peaks on the western skyline were volcanoes was enough, but when Crandall and Mullineaux’s (USGS) hazard study on Rainier was issued in 1967, in which the authors stated that, “Mount Rainier has erupted as recently as 150 years ago, and will certainly erupt again.”, my young imagination became completely transfixed with the idea that I might someday witness a Cascade eruption (…imagine!,…right out my back window!!!!…)!
    I am not sure if it was the power of suggestion, that people became more aware of the mountain’s past, or the unrest was real but, beginning a few years later (late 1960s-early 1970s), reports of steam explosions, unusual glacial melt pits, clouds and rockfalls from the peak became frequent, adding some weight to Crandall and Mullineaux’s statement as well as continuing to feed my curiousity about volcanoes.
    Four years later (I was starting to get a feel for geologic time by then!), Mount Baker provided another boost to my volcano education by becoming “my first active volcano”. Having to watch it slowly return to slumber over the next five years was tempered by the release of another Crandall/Mullineaux joint entitled, “Potential hazards from future eruptions of Mount Saint Helens, Washington.”. I think everyone’s familiar with their “…perhaps by the end of this century.” statement in the bulletin.
    Well,…guess where my family spent every one of my birthdays after issuance of USGS Bulletin 1383-C (actually, we started camping at MSH after Crandell and Mullineaux’s preliminary findings were published in Science magazine in 1975). The upper Toutle River valley was amazing! You could observe layer after layer of young lahar, pyroclastic flow and airfall deposits by just walking along the fresh-cut river banks. I still have samples of andesite and dacite I collected during those trips. More amazing was the size and density of Douglas fir, Western red cedar trees, the lush growth overall in the upper valley was something I’ll never forget. Visiting those areas after 18 May 1980 is what (for me) caused the immensity of what happened to really sink-in.
    I remember reading about the 4.1 earthquake in the newspaper the day after it happened, on Friday 22 March 1980. Mount Saint Helens was a frequent producer of earthquakes and, more often than not, if an earthquake in the state was reported felt,
    it occurred in SW Washington, “near Mount Saint Helens”. But, this quake was a little stronger than most, so my imagination ran wild over the weekend with thoughts of it being the first in a series of tremors that would signal eruptive activity at the volcano (little did I know that another M4 quake occurred Saturday evening and by late Sunday night,…the precursory sequence was in full swing!).
    Imagine my elation upon reading the headline (not page 5D or some other niche reserved for volcano stories in those days!) stating “scientists concerned that Mount Saint Helens might be waking-up.”! As I said before, MSH frequently experienced earthquakes, but not swarms,…so, in my mind, there was no doubt about what was happening beneath the volcano,…and with Dwight Crandall’s and Donal Mullineaux’s volcano track record,…what would happen!
    Seismicity at the volcano was reported to have eased dramatically by Tuesday, 25 March, but Mullineaux was quick to point out that this wasn’t necessarily a “good” sign.
    He noted that eruptions elsewhere had sometimes followed marked declines in
    swarm seismicity. Right again! I was in the front parking lot of Eisenhower Senior High School on 27 March at 12:30 p.m. when a loud sonic boom-like detonation came out of the west! My suspicions were confirmed by radio announcements about a half an hour that MSH had indeed erupted for the first time in 123 years.
    From the following weekend through 10 May 1980, I was parked either at the Camp Baker roadblock (Toutle River) or as far up the Cispus River Road(east side,…near Bear Meadow) as weather (not the volcano mind you!) would allow. I felt perfectly safe at both locations and believed I could easily “escape” if anything untoward happened. Yeah,…right!!!
    Since I had spent all my money on weekend trips to the volcano from March 29th, through May 10th, without seeing much more than a few quick glimpses of the cone through a sloppy mixture of rain and snow (on the west side), slogging up a ridge through melting snow to gather a Mason jar of ash (on the east side), I stayed home on the weekend of May 18th.
    On the morning of the 18th, I was laying-in, my mother and father were in the living room with their ritual cups of coffee and Sunday paper in hand when,…Ba-Boom! My dad immediately (jokingly!) responded with, “Mount Saint Helens just erupted!”. Looking back on it now,…he was taunting me! Anyhow,…after another half hour (9 am), we started hearing these long, rolling peals of thunder. Problem is,…this was May (kinda early for a thunderstorm in Central Washington) and the storm seemed to be coming from the west (here, thunderstorms typically approach from the south to southeast)!
    My father and I walked out our back patio which faces west to have a look. All that was visible to the west was a dark haze, no mushroom cloud or anything suggesting something volcanic, but a soon an unusually high cirrus layer pushed rapidly eastward over us (I had no weather training at that time but I knew it was quite high in the atmosphere) At about the same time, the lower level haze was upon us and shortly thereafter the street lamps began to activate (not unusual during a good thunderstorm). But soon, we began to hear something more unsettling, a light tick, tick, tick on the leaves of plants in my mothers garden. At first we thought wow!, static electricity, we need to go inside, but upon entering the house I got an idea about what else could produce that ticking sound! I ran out the front door and nearly slipped as I stepped out (in my bare feet) on the front sidewalk. I put my hand down flush with the sidewalk. When I brought it back up to examine, it looked as though I had talcum powder or baking flour covering my palm! I was beyond ecstatic!!!
    From that point (maybe 930 am) things began to happen at a much more rapid pace. The cloud shut down the eastern horizon, things went black,…and the thunder! The thunder was like I’ve never experience ever since! I attended Naval forecasting school in Mississippi and witnessed (daily) thunderstorms as well as two hurricanes,…not even close! The thunder on 18 May 1980 was incessant and so loud as to just come short of shattering windows (I’m not exaggerating!)! You could not see the lightning whatsoever but the thunder!!!! Visible mixed in with the sparkling ashfall (under the streetlights), were occasional spiral-shaped fibres of wood (as you see around campfires!) and pinecone scales! Imagine almost eight hours of that!,…in total darkness, with sand falling from the sky throughout! A volcanologist’s dream come true!!! My mom’s nerves and many others I’m sure were frazzled but I absorbed every second of it through the distinct 5:30 pm sign-off blast (another sonic-boom-like double detonation!). Things quieted rapidly afterward. The next morning, we awoke to total silence,…not a bird, bug or other sound of anything living. Outdoors smelled like wet cement mixed with a slight hint of fir tree,…no sulphur smell whatsoever. In marked contrast to the day before,…eerily quiet.
    I want to point out that,…yes I realize lives were lost and other lives were changed that day, maybe not for the better but,…that’s what volcanoes do! That’s why I study them intensely. I like to think that from each eruption studied, we glean something out that might limit future eruptions to perhaps being destructive but not deadly.

  30. #30 mike
    May 2, 2010

    Shortly after the May 18 1980 eruption my Dad hired a light plane and we flew over the devastated area. I remember being shocked at what I saw. Mountainside after mountainside of toppled trees all pointing away from the volcano. Vehicles crushed by the falling trees with bodies still inside. I love volcanoes but this was the stuff of nightmares. I could say more but I’m leaving for Costa Rica in a few hours.

  31. #31 Jennifer in Portland
    May 3, 2010

    I was 14 at the time, living in Eugene, OR. I was visiting relatives in Seattle when the eruption occurred and I remember driving back down I-5 the day afterward (?). I remember that we were supposed to keep our windows sealed shut, but my grandmother was smoking in the car and I felt like I was suffocating.

    At one point, there was a very light sprinkling of ash on our car in Eugene. Lots of people were collecting the ash – I remember the “ashenware” pottery you could buy. You can probably still get it in some tourist shops here.

    I also remember visiting the area below the mountain very soon afterward with my parents – we drove up along a river (the Toutle river, maybe?) as far as we could go before reaching a roadblock. It was extremely eery, with uprooted trees clogging the river and everything blanketed in gray. Whenever I drive up I-5 now I see a big hill that used to be ash dredged out of the Toutle river – now it is covered with trees.

    At the time of the eruption, my parents were riding their bikes from Eugene to San Francisco. They put “Volcano refugee” signs on their bikes and got a lot of laughs.

    I also remember this fantastic red plastic Mt. St. Helens volcano hat that I got soon after the eruption. It had a rubber bulb that you filled with flour, and when you squeezed the bulb, the flour puffed out of the top of the hat like an eruption. I wonder what ever happened to it. Someone in Europe should make a similar hat for Eyjafjallajokull.

  32. #32 Smitha
    May 3, 2010

    Can we post even if we weren’t alive for the eruption? I know it sounds odd, but as a 3rd-grader in 1990, I discovered Patricia Lauber’s children’s book on Mount St. Helens in our school library…and I was transfixed and enraptured instantly. How her words and the photographs described what happened completely blew my 8-year-old mind–I had never seen or come across anything like it before. I lost count of how many times I reread that book.

    The 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens singlehandedly started my lifelong love for and fascination with volcanoes and geology. I’m now 28, and while I did not go on to become a geologist, I very seriously considered it, and sometimes I really regret not going down that path. I lived in Japan for two years and spent most of my vacation days traveling around the country to visit various volcanic sites. I do study geology on the side for fun.

    My plans to visit MSH for the eruption’s 30th anniversary have just narrowly fallen through and I am heartbroken–what an incredible pilgrimage (and indeed, that is how I would describe a visit to MSH and the Cascades) it would have been.

  33. #33 Minda
    May 4, 2010

    On the date of Mt St Helens’ eruption I was a police/fire dispatcher for Benton County, Washington- the Tri-Cities. We had been on alert for the eruption for a long time, and knew we were in Condition Red. It was a quiet morning, and my day off- but I was up early as I had a week long seminar begining Monday in Portland.

    I not only heard a very long C-R-A-C-K, but I felt it too. I knew it wasn’t a sonic boom as it disappeared too quickly. I was considering calling dispatch, but we had been receiving hundreds of phone calls whenever the public got nervous, so I decided to continue dressing. No need to add to the problems my co-workers must be experiencing. There was no TV or radio on (I really was enjoying the quiet), and when I walked out into my kitchen, which faces west, I could not believe the dark sky coming in. It was filled with “boiling” clouds.

    I woke my oldest son and asked him to please mow the yard as we were about to have a terrible storm, and he had promised to have it mowed before I left. In a couple of minutes he came back inside to tell me that there was something in the air which was making his skin burn…. It was the acidic ash!!!!

    My youngest son was on a scouting campout at the Potholes, and he would not be seen again for four days! I left for Portland as scheduled, and amazingly, there was no ash on the Oregon side of the Columbia River! We stopped in Hood River where we could get a good look at St Helens.

    Amazing, but we still have pockets of ash in our gardens to this day, 30 years later!

  34. #34 Joan-Marie
    May 4, 2010

    How very fun to read all these notes! I hope you make it someday Smitha, don’t neglect the Olympics when you do.

    I have two strong memories relating to MtStH. When MSH blew I was in High School and entranced by rocks and geology, especially volcanoes. To my lasting distress my parents just didn’t see a good reason to hop in the camper and drive N. from Southern California to see what was happening up close. Although, it was not for lack of effort on my part.

    However, they did decide to head North for our summer vacation. When we got into the zone in Washington, I was excited to see all the ash and the rivers. But what I really remember with glee is that everywhere we stopped near the eruption on I5 people were selling ash, and things made from ask. My mom, being the practical woman that she is, decided it was much cheaper to get our own baggy out and collect our own ash. So we did, from the same place where they were selling it. As I sit and type this I have a wonderfully Kitsch figurine sitting on my computer from MSH ash that same mom brought me from one of her more recent trips.

  35. #35 Robin
    May 6, 2010

    It was my 4th birthday and we were visiting family in Keremeos, BC, just north of the WA border. I clearly remember ash falling from the sky, and my Mom picking ash off the cake. Strangely enough, my Uncle in Clinton, BC, (WAY north of the border) heard the explosion, but we were relatively close and didn’t hear anything.

    When I was 6 I saw a documentary at school about MSH and how Harry Truman wouldn’t leave his lodge, and his sister dropped a wreath for him from a chopper. For years after I was terrified of volcanoes, and couldn’t sleep facing my bedroom window – I was convinced that a volcano was going to grow up through our fields!

    I too have a piece of MSH glass, blown into an egg shape. It looks like the mountain is erupting inside it.

    My husband and I finally made the trip to MSH in August 2008, enduring 40C temps and gale force winds blowing pumice to see the incredible mountain that I’ve felt such a connection to all these years. She was even more beautiful than I imagined. Huge, magnificent and terrifying.

  36. #36 krissy
    May 10, 2010

    I was 9 when Mt St Helens erupted on May 18th 1980. We lived very close to the Mountain, on the South side. (Battle Ground, WA) I remember hiking on the Mountain and going to Spirit Lake before the eruption. May 18th I was at church with my family, as we were walking out of church we noticed the mountain erupting and the sky filled with billowing clouds. I do not remember anyone being afraid. Everyone just stared at the Mountain and the sky. We did not hear a sound or get any ash!
    Thankfully the blast went North which is mostly National Forest because the South side of the Mountain is very populated.
    I just went to Mt St Helens again 2 Years ago and hiked up it with my children. It is SO Amazing!! Everything is growing back and it is just so so beautiful. The Mountain was steaming when we were on it, but seemed normal to me. Alot of people think it sounds scary to go there even now, but it is one of the most beautiful places ever!

  37. #37 Connie
    May 17, 2010

    It was a beautiful Sunday morning. I was standing at Waterfront Park in Portland along the Willamette River and could see Mt. St. Helens erupt. It looked like an atom bomb but it wasn’t. It was surreal.

    On another day, I saw it erupt while standing on Broadway in front of Nordstroms. By then, it seemed like a normal occurance.

    The strangest part was the ash. We all wore face masks so we didn’t breath in the ash (glass particles) and used water to wash off the ash from the car windows so the ash did not scratch the glass.

    One Thursday night, I left work and drove home in falling ash that was like snow. I could not see 15 feet ahead of my car lights. Very odd.

  38. #38 David
    May 21, 2010

    I was 19 at the time and living in Lake Oswego Oregon. We lived up on a hill (Skylands) with a great view north up the Willamette River, straight at the mountain. I recall watching the eruption and lightning which was really cool. Shortly after the May 18th event I was at a Grateful Dead concert at Memorial Coliseum when the band announced they had to cut their show short because ash was falling in Portland. The ended their show with “Fire On The Mountain.” My folks had just had the wood floors resurfaced so I had to keep all the doors closed so ash wouldn’t get onto the still drying finish. I’d spent many a summer up at the Portland YMCA Camp Meehan and had grown to love the area. One summner we climbed St. Helens. We camped at a feature known as Dog’s Head which you can see on the left side of all of the pictures taken from the north side of Spirit Lake where Camp Meehan was located. All of the pictures that have the mirror image of Mt St Helens reflect in the lake were taken from there. The forest was quite different than that surround Mt. Hood, much less loggin meant more old growth. I can testify to the beautiful clear and freezing waters in all of the lakes (Grizzly, Panhandle, Obscurity, St Helens, etc). After arriving at Duck Bay they loaded all of our gear onto a old red life boat called Big Red. After we hiked around the lake to reach the camp the first thing we had to do was take a swimming test as it was an aquatic camp with skiing, sailing, canoes, etc. I’d taken years of swimming lessons but nothing prepared me for the shock of Spirtit Lake’s cold water. The first time I ever went water skiing I was determined to stay up just to get out of that cold water. I made lifetime friends at that camp, my first girlfriend met there and still keep in touch 37 years later. The person who ran the camp’s generator and craft lodge was Skip Chester Armstong who is a famous chain saw sculptor who currently lives in the Sisters area and he’d made a totem pole at the camp. Once someone nailed a 7 inch “male attachment” to it and of course we thought that was hilarious. When someone in our group would mis-behave, we’d tie them to the totem for public humiliation. I still have my brown Ragger scarf that Skip tied up at Ragger Point and I’ve never untied that knot. It still hangs on the post at the bottom of my bed. I was fortunate to get invited to help close the camp in the fall and had a blast. I’d hiked cross country from the Y camp up to Mt. Margaret several times and to think of the area as destroyed made my heart sink considerably. You see, I’d become so attached to the area as to want my ashes spread there. 30 years later, I know that the area wasn’t destroyed, the area is rejuvinated and someday it will be like it was before.

  39. #39 Jeanette Bennett
    July 27, 2010

    I was going to college at Western Washington University in Bellingham, ten miles from the Canadian border. I am a very sound sleeper but a sonic boom woke me up that Sunday morning. I found out later that it was Mt. St. Helens blowing! They heard it clear to Vancouver, B.C. Oddly my grandmother in Kelso, which is much closer, heard nothing. Guess the sound traveled north.

    Then I found out about the eruption and the tidal wave on the Toutle River headed for my family in Kelso and the choking ash headed for the rest of the family in Kennewick! Spent all day trying to contact someone. Luckily everyone was all right.

    The eruption was very traumatic for me because I feel it wiped out my childhood. My grandparents had a cabin at the foot of Mt. St. Helens. The turn off was just beyond the Spirit Lake Lodge. This lodge was on the highway about a mile from Spirit Lake, and not to be confused with the Mt. St. Helens Lodge owned my Harry Truman on Spirit Lake.

    My happiest childhood memories were spent at that cabin which is now buried under who knows how many feet of ash. The Mountain is gone, too, for this isn’t the mountain I remember. That turned reality on its head for me. Nothing is permanent, not even mountains!

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