Mt. St. Helens Eruption: 40 year Anniversary

40 years ago, people were walking around with masks on, but for a very different reason than we find ourselves doing so today. People throughout the Pacific Northwest were wearing masks not to prevent the spread of a virus, but to prevent breathing in ash from the catastrophic event that had just occurred.

It started with an earthquake on March 18, 1980—a tiny glimmer of life after 123 years of hibernation.  More would follow.  A lot more. Avalanches crashed down the mountainside as earthquakes grew in size and frequency.  Inside the volcano, magma was swelling.

There were tiny eruptions. Plumes of ash spilled from the volcano’s tip and generated static electricity; lighting threaded the darkened sky. On April 3rd, Governor Dixy Lee Ray declared a state of emergency and called for an evacuation.  Some refused to leave.

On the morning of May 18th, 1980, at 8:32 am, a 5.2 magnitude earthquake rumbled beneath the mountain, causing the north face to separate, exposing the magma inside to lower pressure.  The result was an explosion that devastated the area and triggered a series of events too numerable to list and too destructive to fully comprehend. By Noon, its ash was falling hundreds of miles away in the State of Idaho. Mt. St. Helens, the day before, stood at 9,677 ft of elevation at its peak, now “peakless” stood at 8,364 ft at the highest point on its south rim of the crater that was now left in the middle.

So we find ways to talk about the eruption, ways to make it seem real. One of the best ways to keep the reality of it alive is through photos. We remember the mountain stirring beneath a 123-year-old winter coat, and the lighting punctuating the ashy sky like veins.  We remember the explosion, the destruction, and the ash that circled the world in the span of two weeks; but mostly we remember how quiet everything got after it happened and how we couldn’t think of a single thing to say. 

With the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, we take a look back at the event and remember it like we do every year: in awe.  If you’ve seen photos or been to the mountain, you know that the eruption of 1980 was astonishing.  In fact, it’s hard not to consider pieces of the eruption (photos that were taken mid-blast, the plume of smoke, the collapsing north face) beautiful.

Unfortunately, the area was devastated from the eruption, landslides, and lahars that spread some 230 square miles. Both survivors and those who didn’t survive the blast that day were able to capture these events unfold in photos and videos that can be seen here.

Mt. St. Helens still isn’t done yet though. It continues to be considered an “active” volcano and we have seen activity on the mountain since “the eruption” of 1980. 

In late September of 2004, Mt. St. Helens again rumbled with earthquake activity.  A new volcanic dome began to rise out of the crater formed by the 1980 eruption and on October 1, 2004, the volcano came to life again.  Thankfully, this time, there was no wide-spread destruction, however, satellite images showed a new lava dome had grown 360 ft. within weeks between late September and October 4, 2004 when the mountain emitted steam and ash.  There was a 30-minute episode in the morning and a 10-minute episode in the early afternoon that scientists believe were caused by hot rock pushing up onto the mountain’s glacier that melted the glacial ice and produced steam. 

This latest activity together with other signs indicates that another eruption is likely in the future. 

Volcanoes are not all bad though, and sometimes Mother Nature has interesting ways of nurturing our planet.   At  The Fruit Company, we know how effective volcanic soil can be for growing healthy and hearty vegetation.  Located in the Hood River Valley, our orchards are set atop layers of volcanic soil courtesy of the eruptions at Mt. Hood some 100,000 years ago.  Our nutrient-rich volcanic soil gives our orchardists the template to grow some of the finest produce in the world compliments of an eruption similar to the one at Mt. St. Helens.

With all the remarkable pictures taken from the eruption 40 years ago, it’s easy to forget about what comes after, what happens next.  However, if the latest satellite images of St. Helens tell us anything, it’s that the most miraculous part may just be what comes after the eruption.

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