Saturday I went down to the western-most Visitor Center for this volcano, just off Interstate 5 in southwest Washington state. That center had just opened when I first came to Mount St. Helens in 1993 (although I had found a way in to see the mountain from the north). I tried to get back to the same spot I had been to in 1993 last year but due to a mudslide earlier last year part of that road was still closed. Saturday was the first time I visited any of the actual Visitor Centers for the mountain.
Mount St. Helens’ last major eruption occurred the morning of May 18, 1980. Fortunately, scientists had detected early signs that something was happening months earlier and had closed the areas immediately around the mountain to public access on March 26 of that year or else the loss of life would have been much greater. Present-day GPS equipment can now detect movement on the mountain of as little as 1/16 of an inch.
I was hoping to go to some of the various vantage points on Saturday but there was a heavy overcast (though the wildfire smoke had cleared) and I couldn’t even see the mountain from the first Visitor Center I got to so I didn’t go any further. Sunday’s forecast doesn’t look any better.
The most dramatic thing I saw at the Visitor Center was “before and after” pictures.
This was a shot of the mountain at some point before the eruption (exactly when, I don’t know).
At the lower left and center of the photo you can see small portions of Spirit Lake. Here is a photo from the same vantage point (look at the two small mountains in the foreground and the curved mountain on the left) after the eruption.
Due to debris falling in the lake and logs effectively damming it, the surface level of the lake rose approximately 200 feet from what it had been so it now covers a much larger area.
Here is an illustration of how, destructive as it was, the release of ash and debris from the mountain in 1980 was relatively small compared to other eruptions in history.
Mount St. Helens is the tiny example in the center foreground of the photo. In the lower left corner is Krakatoa, which erupted in 1883. The huge example in the background is what is now Crater Lake in southwest Oregon, then known as Mount Mazama, which erupted in 4850 BC.
Here is another “before and after” shot, also from the vantage point of Spirit Lake but a tad further east, away from the blast:
You can see how all the mountains in the foreground were stripped bare of the trees and vegetation which once stood there, even though it wasn’t in the direct path of the blast.
These are all pictures of pictures which were in the Visitor Center so I apologize for them being off-center and having reflections in the glass. They were shown without credit so I don’t know who took them originally. I also have pictures of the rapid-fire sequence captured by photographer Gary Rosenquist but haven’t decided yet whether I will post them. They show the incredible speed with which things happened.
To see my post from last year enter “Mount St. Helens” in the search box on the Home page, or use the calendar grid there to go to posts from July 28, 2017.