Our epic liveblog of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction continues! In this edition, we'll cover the very long Chapter 4: Bulge, in which the volcano begins to swell ominously, and a lot of very foolish people parade to the summit of Mount St. Helens. I may have shouted at them quite a lot.

Chapter 4: Bulge

Harry Truman: "I'm part of this lake." D'aw.

He still is. He, his lodge, and his kitties are buried under the debris avalanche and blast
deposits. It’s where he wanted to be at the end of his days, and I'm glad he was allowed the choice.


USGS volcanologist Don Swanson measures the growth of Mount St. Helens’s north slope bulge with a theodolite.

Theodolite: Hey, Goat Rocks has moved a foot in an hour!

Swanson: Nowai!

Mount St. Helens: Wai.


Eruptions decline from several per day to just one a day in early April.

Reporters: Bored now.

Mount St. Helens: Just you wait...


Ohmigawd, these people. Some fools climbed to the crater. On foot. No backup. No, they were not scientists. No, they were not authorized.

Protip: If you are planning to sneak to the top of an active volcano, DON'T DO THAT.


USGS geologist Rocky Crandall: Whatcha think, landslide fall down, make mountain go boom?

USGS volcanologist Barry Voight: Yup. Lotsa rock goes, pressure drop on magma huge, mountain prolly go boom.

Crandall: With no warning.

Voight: Nope.

Be afraid, folks. Be very afraid. And appreciate the fact that geologists saw this coming. Listen to what they tell you, and don't sneak to the top of explodey volcanoes.


FFS. One Skamania County official was relying on a psychic rather than the experts! People, I need epic facepalm gifs STAT.

Image is a demotivational poster thatshows a large brown bear lying on its tummy with its paws over its eyes. Caption says, "Facepalm: Even this bear thinks that's ridiculous."


Bezymianny! Woot! Waitt studied it and Lassen Peak to make sense of Mount St. Helens’s patterns, and at this moment in the book is going, "Oh, shi-"

To explain why seeing Bezi mentioned pleases me so, click here.


Tourists at roadblock: But we wanna go up there!

Patrol Captain Bullock: You can't. It's dangerous.

Tourists (pointing at log trucks coming from behind roadblock): If it's so dangerous, why they there then, HRMM?!

Bullock: ... Dunno.

You know what, dude, the answer's simple: the loggers are up there because they’re PAID to risk getting their asses killed in an eruption. You tourists are not. It's kinda like being all, "But HE gets to carry a gun and a badge and pull people over for speeding, why can't we?" You want to do cop things, become a cop. You want to go into restricted areas on an active volcano, become a logger. Or a volcanologist. Sheesh.


Spirit Lake Lodge Owners: Government's restricting our rights! We'll open our business in spite of them!

USGS geologist Rocky Crandell: So there's, like, this gigantic bulge on the north face that wasn’t there two months ago, there's been a ton of earthquakes, one good shake or steam blast could bury ya'll under tons of ice and rock before you could get outta the way. Lessee, then there's 35mph mudslides, pumice up to 40 inches deep, and all daylight will be cut off. Oh, and mebbe a 1000 degree Celsius ash cloud going 100mph. No survivors. Of course, it might not happen, but it’s a for real possibility. Just sayin'.

Owners: Nevermind. We're staying closed.

Good choice.

Measuring changes to the volcano using a theodolite gets interesting as geologists attempt to find the targets they've planted in various spots.

USGS geologist Peter Lipman (unable to sight the Goat Rocks target): Egads! I've forgotten how to measure. It was right here just the other day!

He finally finds it three yards to the right of where it was supposed to be. Then he looks for the Dog's Head target, which is precisely where they left it.

Lipman: It would seem I've not forgotten after all. But that would mean... but that's incredible...

He sights two targets on Sugarbowl, which have behaved themselves. But he finds the second Goat Rocks target three yards out of whack.

Lipman: Why, that bit has moved three yards in two bloody days! By Jove, that is the fastest earth movement ever proven!

(Don't ask me why I've given Lipman a British accent. It just sorta happened.)


I really seriously very much wish that all the curious looky-lous would stop climbing up to the crater of the very dangerous volcano. I had no idea this many fools had done it.

Look, if you're an amateur, stay the heck away unless you're invited to accompany a group of experienced volcanologists. Even then, you'd best be prepared to die, because you can never know what that mountain may do while you're up there.


I just want to state for the record that David Johnston was fierce. Okay? This dude climbed down into the crater to get a water sample. He climbed down into a very unstable place that could erupt any minute, but also had frequent earthquakes dropping tons of ice and rock down. He did it because there was no other way to get a sample to see if there was a lot of dissolved sulfur dioxide, which tells us important things about what the volcano might be up to. He did it despite being scared, because he knew there was a real risk he could die.

Note to people thinking, "Oh, how neat, I would totally do that!": it was his job. Do not do this if it is not your actual science job that you get paid for.


Grargh, the governor just reduced the exclusion zones to next to nothing. She shrank the blue zones, where the public was kept out but loggers could work in daylight, down to itty bitty bits. Her excuse? (And this is a direct quote, mind:)

"Well, the idea of a blue zone is stupid. It's dangerous or not: you're either pregnant or not."

I cannot even begin to express how asinine this is. Seriously. It is all dangerous, Governor Ray, it's just that some people are getting paid to risk their lives. And the hazards from eruptions don't go full-bore and then come to an abrupt halt at some arbitrary line. They taper off with distance. Therefore, a little further away is a little less dangerous - enough for people whose economic survival depends on the forest to risk death by going in. And fewer people in there means fewer for search and rescue to locate. This is not quantum physics. This is not some esoteric mathematical theory. This is plain, simple fact.

I cannot believe a woman as well-educated in science as she is can be this dense. I'm going to put it down to the fact that she is a Republican* and therefore is motivated to ignore reality when it suits her business overlords' agenda.

*(She ran and was elected as a Democrat only because she couldn't win as what she actually was, which was a Republican.)

Okay, entitled jerks who don't have the sense God gave a garden gnome, listen up: if you're gonna skirt roadblocks and break in to and squat in the the cabins wiser people evacuated, at least please have the courtesy to clean up after yourselves when you’re done courting death.


This is the most appropriate radio station on Earth to be carrying official notices about hazards from an eruption: AM radio 1270 KBAM.

I'm not joking. This is the station Toutle residents were told to tune in to.


Two USGS geologists are trying to dig their car out of a patch of snow it's got stuck in.

Bob Decker: Dude, stahp rocking the car!

Jim Moore: Me?! That's not me! You stahp!

Earthquakes: Tee-hee! We won't stahp!


You know, I used to worry because I'd heard the ground at Flagstaff, AZ was rising by an inch per year. Geologists know there's something up with Kilauea when its rates of deformation are around 1-2 inches per year. But Mount St. Helens? The bulge on it was swelling by 2.5 inches per hour.

That's kinda like finding a human who sprints at jet speeds.


Bandai-san is mentioned in the context of a report on possible hazards from the unstable north face bulge. That was a volcano in Japan that blew out sideways and devastated 27 square miles. It was awe-inspiring, but tiny compared to what St. Helens ended up doing.

Bandai-san is an old friend. You can read about it here.


Dave Johnston was worried about Harry Glicken, who was monitoring the volcano from Coldwater II (now Johnston Ridge). He called the Air Force Reserve in Portland to arrange evacuation in the case of an eruption that cut off road escapes. I love pilot Bill Hewes's response to his request: "Of course. You call, we haul."

In three days, David will be up on that ridge, buried under tons of landslide debris and blast deposits. Helicopters will search for him, but he'll never be found. Some disasters defy all attempts to prepare for them, mock all contingencies.

Photo of my copy of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction, which has a black and white photo of Mount St. Helens erupting.

That's all for this edition. In the next, we'll come right to the brink of catastrophe! If you can't wait, you can satisfy your need for hawt volcano action and help support my blogging career by purchasing copy of In the Path of Destruction right here.