On May 18th, 1980, those of us living in the Pacific Northwest got quite a shock. A mountain many of us had seen all our lives suddenly blew its top — quite literally. Mt. St. Helens, a mountain in southwestern Washington state, erupted, causing destruction and devastation for miles around and beyond the blast zone.
The eruption was not a complete surprise. Scientists had predicted an eruption after a recent earthquake and a bulge in the mountain — both indicators of a possible eruption, but it was still a surprise to most people in the area. Rock, ash, and gases spewed into the air, blowing the top 1300 feet off of the mountain, and knocking down thousands of trees. The blast also melted a lot of snow, causing a massive runoff of water which mixed with all the debris and led to horrible flooding downhill from the mountain. The USGS has amazing photos of the eruption and its aftermath.
I was 14 when the eruption happened, and although we didn’t see the first one on May 18th, we did get ash falling in the air in Portland. I remember it was quite a topic of discussion! Our family did go downtown Portland to my dad’s office for another of the eruptions, on July 22nd. These photos are from that day, and look quite a lot like the May 18th eruption. It was SO exciting for us kids to go down to see this.
35 years later, Mt. St. Helens has made an incredible rebound. Although the old growth forest is not there any longer, there is an amazing amount of regrowth in the area. From what was literally a deep layer of rock dust, a whole new ecosystem has developed. One of our favorite spots is the beautiful visitor center up at Johnston Ridge. It offers a fantastic movie, especially impressive on a clear day. There’s lots of great hiking in the area and some great camping nearby as well. The area is well worth checking out.
Want to feel like you’re right back in high school science class? Check out this video about the event! Looking for some great books for kids about volcanoes? Check out Elizabeth Rusch’s Will It Blow, Volcano Rising, and Eruption!, all three of which are awesome.
Have you visited Mt. St. Helens? What lasting impressions did it make on you? Let us know in the comments, and have a blast — whether it’s this week or this weekend!