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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mount St. Helens: 28th anniversary of 'the big eruption'

Everyone who lived in the Northwest, in 1980, almost certainly has a story of their own to tell about May 18, 1980. Today is the 28th anniversary of 'the big eruption' of Mount St. Helens.

I was working for KTAC AM 850, in Tacoma, and we were regularly broadcasting wire service warnings from the National Weather Service in the days before the eruption about the potential "plume trajectory" (a previously unfamiliar term) and the repeated warnings to shovel ash off roofs as quickly as possible to prevent structural collapse.

That concept was way beyond me -- at least until May 18th.

The only 'ash' I was familiar with was the feathery, lightweight, seemingly inconsequential, virtually weightless ash that would periodically need to be removed from our fireplace. How on Earth could it be possible that 'ash' could cause structural collapse? It was baffling, incomprehensible.

Until it happened.

The mountain has gone a long way toward healing itself from the cataclysmic eruption that rocketed more than a cubic mile of pulverized rock and Earth into the sky and the pyroclastic flow that shot down the mountainside at more than 300 miles an hour, consuming everything in its path, snapping off whole forests as if they were little more than toothpicks along with the deadly mudflow that followed, clogging rivers, mangling and dismantling bridges.
  • KOMO Radio's Jim Reid scrambled to higher ground on foot to save his life, but lost a news car and all of the broadcasting gear to the surging mudflow. KOMO's sister station KATU, Portland, quickly dispatched another fully-equipped news vehicle to the area for him to use, but it was also swept downstream and a total loss and the mud flow wound its way down to the lowlands decimating everything in its path.

Monitoring the volcano cams (both the standard and the more recent addition of the high-definition imagery) is something I've enjoyed for several years now ever mindful of the power and might of Mt. St. Helens.

Many years ago, when the road into the area was first reopened, my children and I drove there one day on an impromptu outing.
The scale of the blast is beyond comprehension until seeing it in person. It was sobering and humbling.
We saw the burned out hulks of vehicles mired in the mud and sand, the massive trees tossed around like Lincoln Logs, and the earliest signs of new life coming back to the area as it was being re-seeded by birds. In the years since, the growth of the lava dome with all of the lesser eruptions and long-term eruptive phase has gone quite a distance toward filling in that gaping hole in the mountain's top.

I've captured many fabulous images of the mountain in recent years. The one supplied with this post is a picture this afternoon on the 28th Anniversary of 'the big eruption.' The most magnificent viewing is typically around sunrise and sunset. The following link with take you to the U.S. Forest Service site and directly to the high-definition image that is current. The image refreshes automatically every minute.


JosephMcG said...

Wonderful picture... great story... the whole St. Helen's thing got passed me at the time...
I needed you to tell the story so that I could begin to appreciate the immensity and sadness of the time...
Thanks J.J.

Patty Cake said...

Wow! I remember being in an inner tube floating on Commencement Bay the day the mountain erupted.