Mt. St. Helen’s Anniversary

by jhwygirl

Mt. St. Helen’s erupted 27 years ago today, back in 1980.

I wasn’t here, but anytime someone mentions it, you’ll find me asking 50 questions. Consider that a warning, I guess. I know there was a hell of lot of ash that fell.

On that note – I’d sure love to hear some stories, if any of our readers have ’em.

  1. I was living and working in Spokane at the time. I had gone downtown shortly after lunch that day and saw what looked like storm clouds to the west. I thought a massive thunderstorm was coming — I hadn’t heard yet about the eruption. I headed back home around 3pm. The ash was nearly overhead, and having heard the news by this time I figured I’d better get home. I got about halfway there when it rolled in and in a matter of minutes you couldn’t even see the traffic lights and could barely see the headlights. I managed to pull off to the side and sat it out hoping no one would pile into the back of my truck. It was over an hour before the air cleared enough to be able to drive again. It was simply impossible to drive through the worst of it. I couldn’t see past the hood. The dust blew back and forth through town for the rest of the summer.

  2. I’d imagine that the cloud, in Spokane, would have been something like a pile of dirt falling out of the sky. Was it?

  3. That’s good way to put it. It was one of those situations where you are near panic, especially driving, because you literally can’t see for more than about 2 or three feet. It was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen.

  4. One more little bit as long as I’m reminiscing here. While sitting in my truck waiting I could faintly see as far as the windows inside the truck, though it was extremely dark. Beyond the windows was nothing but a wall of black. The thought flashed through my mind that I was being buried alive. Being somewhat claustrophobic, it was a very unpleasant hour or so to say the least.

  5. JC

    The fall before it erupted, I spent some time caving inside St. Helens in the Ape Caves.

    I remember hiking down through the lava tunnels, thinking about how they formed–during an eruption, the lava flowed out of the volcano, and cooled on the top side. When the top side of the lava flow cooled, and the volcano erupted, the lava flowed out of the tunnels, and left miles long, 20 ft. high tunnels that you can hike through. It was way cool.

    But I kept thinking about an eruption, and being in there when one happened. I felt a little… claustrophobic and vulnerable. The following spring I was hiking in the Appalachians when St. Helens blew. About 3 days afterwards, the ash reached us and created the most amazing sunsets for several nights. The whole sky was glowing in reds, oranges and golds.

  6. Wow. I have no recollection of the sky changing, and I was plenty old enough to have remembered.

    I wonder if the caves are still there? I went to Mt. St. Helen’s 2 years ago, pretty amazing – to see how the terrain changed in an instant, the extent of the blast, the line of difference between life and death.

    The streams in the area are also pretty wild – the glaciation, the milky white green color to them. I really is a beautiful area – I can see why so many refused to leave.

  7. Dan

    We drank a heck of a lot of beer over a few days

  8. I was in Lewistown, MT at school when the ash came in.

    My memories sure aren’t too terribly distinct, I was 7 at the time,
    I remember the sky going greyish brown, and we all had to walk home from school early with wet washcloths over our mouths. My Older brother was in charge of herding kids across the street, and I walked to the babysitters without him. We watched as ash just filled the air and gathered on the ground like snow. It was everywhere.

  9. I was on the phone talking to my girlfriend when the ash cloud came through Kootenai canyon, at about 4 in the afternoon. It looked like we were about to get one helluva thunderstorm. As soon as the ash started falling, the whole world went dark. It looked like midnight by 6. We got the all the animals confined, and made sure the water was sheltered. I couldn’t believe how calm it was. No wind or even a breeze. The Bitterroot got hit pretty hard, and there was about 3 to 4 inches of ash on everything by the time it was over. I still have a couple of small bottles of it. Everything shut down for the next day (Monday if I remember correctly).

    One of the things I remember is that nobody seemed to know what to do. One news report said not to wash the ash off with water, another told you to do exactly that. Use a soft brush to get the ash off of things/ don’t brush the ash off of painted surface or you’ll scratch the paint. I also remember that some barn roofs (and an old house or two) suffered collapse from the weight of the ash.

    About 5 days after the eruption the rains set in, and it rained like hell off and on for a good two weeks. It made for a mucky graduation party down by the river. The school was actually going to delay our graduation for a week, because of the two days missed due to the ash fall, but there was talk of rebellion and riot (not that I had a *thing* to do with such grumblings. Instead, we actually got sprung a week early. Thank you, Mount St. Helens!

  10. My sister graduated from high school (Frenchtown) that day. I remember seeing the cloud coming, and like everyone else says it looked like a big thunderstorm coming. Her senior trip was to Seattle and they went ahead and sent them anyway — the ash was so thick in Ritzville that the National Guard had to come out and guide them in. They did make it to Seattle, though.

    If I recall, the Missoula schools all shut down for several days, if not weeks. We kept going in Frenchtown, because back in those days we were a hardier breed, you know. . . .

  11. mayor of mayhem

    Do you remember the skies changin thanks to the steel mills?? It wasn’t life or death, but it was a light ongoing sort of ash…

  12. Everyone -Thanks for all the anecdotes…I’m an earthquake and volcano geek, I guess. Very interesting.

    Mayor of Mahem – I did kinda think that I didn’t notice the eruption because it probably wasn’t any different than business-as-usual.

    I don’t remember any ash, though.


  13. Jodi

    Uh, that would be 28 years ago, when I was nine-going-on-ten and living in eastern Washington. It was eerie having the sky go dark mid-day. Worst part was that my parents were away on vacation right near the volcano, and I waited for hours to find out that they were all right.

  14. goof houlihan

    I remember being at the dead concert in portland when the mountain blew…the second time. A relatively minor explosion that dumped three inches of wet concrete all over my car and made driving back to Central Oregon a big mess.

    Walking out into the falling ash was….trippy in a “morning dew” kinda way.

  15. You’re fooling with me.

  16. goof houlihan

    No, you can believe it was highly surreal…

  17. goof houlihan

    I really don’t think it was literally during “fire on the mountain”. That’s just somebody’s enhanced recollection

  18. goof houlihan

    sorry about the language from the dead site. damn hippies…

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