It's the thirty-ninth anniversary of the May 18th, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Some of you reading this were not yet alive when she was whole, or too little to realize how she gripped the country. All eyes were on her: we hadn't had a volcano erupt as explosively in the continental United States since Lassen in 1917. And while we'd been watching her build to a crescendo for months, we didn't expect her to go so big. Even the volcanologists were taken by surprise.
The news that day was full of her. She forms one of my earliest memories, filling our television screen with gray billows of ash. Our neighbors went to visit her shortly after, and came back bearing ash samples and stories of a moonscape. No one could quite wrap their heads around the scale of the devastation, even those who had seen it firsthand. Even now, even as her scars fill with flowers and trees, even as her slopes once again teem with life, seeing the blast zone for the first or twenty-third time is an astounding experience. The amount of damage a stratovolcano can do is stupefying.
If you've never visited her, I recommend swinging by Mount Rainier if you're coming from the north, or one of her other Cascades brothers or sisters if you're arriving from the south or east, to get an idea of before. If you can't manage a visit to one of them, try to spend the first day on her southern flank, where the damage is less immediately apparent. She's incredibly impressive even if you haven't done that, but seeing her blown-out north face is so much more astounding if you've experienced what she was like before the eruption. Getting a sense of what that lateral blast did to mature Pacific Northwest forests makes her all the more impressive.
Pause for a moment, and remember the geologists and others who died that day. Thanks in large part to the unceasing work by Dwight "Rocky" Crandall and Donal Mullineaux, along with many others in the USGS and the emergency services, combined with the great good fortune of the cataclysmic eruption happening on a Sunday, fewer people perished than would have happened otherwise. But volcanoes are dangerous, and Mount St. Helens couldn't help but kill 57 people when she erupted.
Come visit her with me today.
We'll start in the past and work our way up and through the eruption here with Prelude to a Catastrophe and The Cataclysm, my series-in-progress on the 1980 eruption events, starting when two young USGS geologists realized how dangerous she was.
Take a tour of the blast zone and other points of interest with my west side guide.
Let kids investigate her with the best volcano detective book of all time.
And enjoy some absolutely spectacular eruption photos from the 1980s. Need more? I spent ages combing through the USGS archives, so you can have more!
We've been pretty busy lately with volcanic tsunamis and shiny gemstones, but I promise we'll be returning to our favorite volcano very soon. We'll delve further into the geology of her eruptions. We'll explore her meaning to volcanologists. And we'll be approaching her from other directions, delving deep into her past and peering into her future as we go.
I hope you'll join me.