29th Anniversary of the Mount Saint Helens Eruption

Mount Saint Helens less than 30 seconds after a sector collapse that triggered one of the largest eruptions in the Cascades in the last 500 years.

Today is the 29th anniversary of the dramatic eruption of Mount Saint Helens in Washington state. The eruption dramatically changed the landscape around the volcano along with greatly increasing our understanding of volcanic sector collapses and explosive eruptions. I was going to write a larger entry on the event, but alas, I will instead be lecturing to 100 UC Davis students about the event today instead (sorry folks!)

Instead, if you want to relive (or just live, as the case might be) the 1980 eruption, check out this YouTube video I found with the CBS Evening News coverage of the eruption soon after it happened. Wired also has some great images from before/during/after the events of May 18, 1980.

Feel free to leave your memories of the eruption here!

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I was camping on an island in the Columbia near the town of Saint Helens. I remember waking hearing a deep rumbling noise and after a while thinking "that is one damn long train." After a while I looked out of the tent and saw the eruption. Rowed out to the boat and turned on the hand held VHF and that was how I first heard news about the eruption. Was an interesting sail back to Portland, watching a volcano erupt!

I was in junior high in Maine, and mostly oblivious to it. However, Andrew Alden (who write geology stuff for about.com) was working at the USGS in Menlo Park, and knew David Johnston ("Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!"). Andrew's remembrances of David and of Mt St Helens are here.

I hired a pilot to fly me over the devastated area shortly after the eruption in a light plane. I was awestruck by the devastation which was far greater than I had expected. Loss of life was sadly evident as well.

While at Texas A&M in the late 1970s I was ever so briefly acquainted with James F. Fitzgerald Jr. James died of asphyxiation by volcanic ash in the driver's seat of his car parked on Spud Mountain, where he was camping seven miles northwest of Mount St. Helens. James had been a graduate student at the University of Idaho engaged in field work for his Ph.D. in volcanology and was doing what he loved most at the time. The University of Akron, where he earned his master's in 1970, endowed a geology scholarship in his name. The Johnsons who had also been at Texas A&M where with him but had gone down the mountain that night. They were returning when St Helens blew and had to race down the mountain in their car to keep ahead of the blast. There used to be a page at tamu.edu on it but I cannot find it now.

By Lynn David (not verified) on 18 May 2009 #permalink

I was living in Kennewick, Washington, about 200 miles East. I remember looking up and seeing the sky completely overcast with strange, slate-gray, cumulo mammatus-like clouds. I had no idea what they were. It wasn't until it started raining dirt that I realized that the clouds were from an eruption. I still remember the burnt-rock smell. The news told us about "silicovolcanoconiosis," but I don't recall people going around with dust masks. The ash was a little hard on wheel bearings and air filters. I was glad that my car had an odd "oil bath" air filter--dump the oil, scrape out the sludge, put in fresh oil, and good to go.

By Wayne Conrad (not verified) on 18 May 2009 #permalink

Great image of the eruption! First time I have seen a decent resolution color image of the first 30 seconds. The other images are stored at Fort Knox I suppose...
On the right side of the image there are several thin "streaks". Are they created by ejected boulders?

Truly a spectacular photo. You can clearly see the still moving debris flow at the bottom being overtaken by the lateral blast. The USGS professional paper on the eruption (available in many university libraries) has the images reproduced full page, and the dimensions of the pages are quite large. Seeing these images printed to that size reveals many amazing details.

At the time of the eruption, I was on a softball field in Bellingham, WA, in the upper NW corner of the state. We were running a practice, and at one point I looked upwards because I thought I heard a sonic boom, very common then in Calif, where i was raised. My teammates thought I was crazy. I asked them, didn't you hear that? Their response was no. I heard the noise again and again looked to the sky...Now my team was getting a bit frustrated with me standing in the middle of the infield looking up, watching for any kind of aircraft that could have made that 'boom' noise. It wasn't until we went home and turned on the TV to find out the mountain blew its top...I don't think I will ever forget that day...

11 years later, some of us went up to see the mountain, and I was amazed at the regrowth. What was impressive was actually seeing Spirit Lake. This lake was the recipient of all of the trees that were blasted off of the mountain, and their resting spot....Imagine a puddle of water about three feet across, on one end, dump a couple boxes of round toothpicks. Now, stand back a few feet, and picture this: That is the image of Spirit Lake with all of those trees still sitting in the water....Unbelievable...

Initially we got a little bit of ash, but due to the air current, Bellingham and Vancouver, British Columbia didn't get the remaining ash until it had circled the globe.

It was quite the event, I happened to have a camera pointed at the mounttain when it erupted and captured sixteen dramatic photos of about sixty seconds of the event, then it was time to get out of Dodge, had I known what I know now I would have stayed there and enjoyed the whole experience.

By vern Hodgson (not verified) on 02 May 2010 #permalink