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Monday, May 18, 2020

Eruption Day

Forty years ago today one of our mountains blew up.

Washington State is home to four volcanic mountains. On May 18th, 1980, one of them, Mount St. Helens, erupted.
She was a beauty. Often photographed from this vista, with Spirit Lake in the foreground, this mountain and surrounding forests were an attraction for campers, hikers, huckleberry pickers, and timber companies. May people had cabins in the surrounding hills and forests.

Several months before the big eruption, the mountain gave off plenty of warnings. There were steam plumes from the crater, and swarms of earthquakes. The governor closed off much of the access to roads into the area and closed down logging for safety precautions. Scientists warned that an eruption was imminent.

Reminiscent of what is going on today, people were angry, insisting that they had property rights and should be allowed in to the restricted area. Timber companies argued against shutting down logging in too great of an area. On May 17th, a Saturday, a caravan of property owners were allowed in for the day to check on their property, to be back out by nightfall. Logging had been allowed again closer to the mountain.  Logging would be in progress the following Monday.

Scientists predicted a typical vertical eruption. That's not what happened. On Sunday morning, at 8:32 AM, a massive landslide took off half of the top of the mountain, resulting in a sideways blast that spewed super heated gas, rock, and ash over hundreds of square miles, obliterating everything in its path. Then the vertical eruption sent a plume ten miles into the air. 
 As volcanic ash rained down, especially east of the mountain, people were not resistant to wearing their masks, just to be able to breathe and keep the harmful volcanic ash silica out of their lungs. 

Mount St Helens erupted several more time during the following summer. More ash rained down. Here in Seattle we only got a light dusting. May places were not so lucky. 

Pyroclastic flows on the mountain melted the glaciers and set off mud and rock flows, lahars, down the river valleys, causing much more destruction.


Fifty-seven people died, many of them never found. Many more would have been lost if the eruption had happened on a week day morning, when logging was taking place. 


Today, 40 years later, growth is returning to some of the areas around the mountain. She remains much studied and much observed by scientists. She has taught the world much about volcanic eruptions and that study has saved lives around the world. 

We live on a big blue marble that is a living planet. Whether it's a massive mountain sitting on a base of molten magma, or a microscopic virus floating unseen in the air we breath, we live with unknowns and unknowables. Science gives us the only clues we have. We need to heed scientists. 

14 comments:

  1. I do remember that being on the news but I did not know or at least did not remember the back story. Of course scientist would have known something was up though. Lessons are out there but too many seem to want to learn everything the hard way.

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  2. Great before and after pictures, as well as your perspective of life.

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  3. I have been reading about this happening. I remember it happening but being in the middle of the country it didn't much affect us. Amazing how nature works. The earth is alive from deep within.

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  4. That would have been quite the day! Great pictures!

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  5. I remember that day. We were already living in this house and could see the smoke and ash.

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  6. I like your concluding sentence. Somehow some people do not trust science. I don't understand this situation.

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  7. It was an amazing event I remember. We live in fear of earthquakes in our area and now the corona virus has become a more immediate threat!

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  8. I saw a TV show on that this past Sunday. I was amazed that it has been 40 years. Interesting how many people were as resistant to the word of scientists as we are today. They are not trying to take our freedom but trying to see that we live another day. What is so hard about that?

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  9. I recall this happening, but unlike if it were to happen today there wasn't as much coverage on our news in Saskatchewan. Your final sentence says it all.

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  10. I too am amazed that it was forty years ago. I remember it well, from my office in Colorado. I didn't think I would move here back then, but I'm glad I did, even with volcanoes and earthquakes. It's a beautiful place to live. Thanks for the great article. I learned a lot. :-)

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  11. Oh my goodness, everyone should read this post. Doesn't seem like it was 40 years ago that this happened. I like your last sentence. Folks do need to stop and listen. Wish I could write like you.

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  12. Oh yes! We definitely need to heed scientists and doctors. It’s amazing to see the change in that beautiful mountain/volcano. I think I read somewhere that even Mt. Fuji could erupt. You’re right that the earth is a living, breathing blue marble.

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  13. I recall the news and ash falling and visibility was awful just like in a blizzard:(

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