All Weather News

40 Years Ago Today: The Eruption Of Mt. St. Helens

18 May 2020, 6:19 am

Forty years ago Monday, Mount Saint Helens erupted in western Washington, commencing the most destructive eruption in U.S. history.

Fifty-seven people died from the eruption, including a noted United States Geologic Survey (USGS) scientist. The USGS refers to the event as the “worst volcanic disaster in the recorded history of the conterminous United States”.

For approximately two months, a series of earthquakes gradually weakened the volcano’s northern flank, until it finally collapsed on May 18th, 1980. On that morning, a 5.1 magnitude earthquake just below the north side of the volcano triggered a huge high-speed landslide that led to the majority of the destruction.

The slide unleashed magma that exploded with about 500 times the force of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, according to The Los Angeles Times.

A nine-hour-long ash cloud hovered over the Northwest most of that day, traveling “hundreds” of miles away. Here’s what the eruption-induced crater looked like in 2007 (photo credit: Jon Major, USGS):

Because this was the first major volcanic explosion in the United States, however, USGS scientists credit it with helping prompt key studies and research. It was the “ideal laboratory to study volcanic activity”, according to the USGS.

“But the truth is the eruption of Mount St. Helens sparked the advances in cutting-edge volcano science and monitoring that exist today,” the USGS summarized in its 40-year look-back on the eruption last week. “The eruption also led to a new era of volcanic monitoring. During studies at Mount St. Helens, scientists refined their interpretations of monitoring data in order to better forecast future eruptions.”

For more on the Mount Saint Helens eruption, the USGS has more detailed information here.

Featured photo courtesy: Robert Kimmel, USGS

About the author
Chris doesn't remember a time when that he didn't love the weather. When he was five years old, he wrote his first words, "Partly cloudy", in Ms. Benn's kindergarten class. According to Chris, it's been a love affair ever since, from teaching himself how to read forecast models at age 12, to landing at WeatherNation. Growing up in Greenwich, Connecticut, he started to go after his lifelong drea... Load Morem of becoming a meteorologist by predicting whether or not there would be snow days - turning him into Greenwich High School's "defacto weatherman". He turned that snow day-predicting website into a front page story a local newspaper, which in turn earned him a look at WABC-TV in New York, where Chris did the weather live on-air at the age of 16. He attended Boston University, where he continued being a "weather nerd", performing weather updates on the campus radio and TV stations, and doing the daily forecasts for the student newspaper. Following his studies at BU, Chris worked at Mile High Sports and ESPN Denver for four years while pursuing his certification in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University. Chris is a huge sports fan, rooting for the Rockies, Nuggets, Broncos, Avalanche and UConn. He frequently find links between sports and weather, including an investigative analysis he did in 2013, finding trends between Peyton Manning's play and game time temperature (he doesn't like the cold). Chris also enjoys running, playing any sport, socializing and periodically overeating at all-you-can-eat buffets.

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