Unique vantage point gives a very close look at the eruption of Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens explodes
Keith Stoffel, then a DNR employee, took this photo which is the only known image of the initial eruption of Mount St. Helens. Photo: Keith Stoffel (c) 2010.

QUESTION: How long did it take for the dust and ash from the Mount St. Helens eruption to circle the earth?
ANSWER: Find out tomorrow on Ear to the Ground …or…  see the answer now on DNR’s Facebook page (while you’re there, please “fan us” — we’ve got plenty more information about Mount St. Helens coming in the next few days.)

Yesterday’s QUIZ answer: Q: How high did the column of ash reach into the atmosphere follow the eruption? A: 80,000 feet (24,000 M) in less than 15 minutes.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Mount St. Helen’s eruption, which killed 57 people and destroyed 230 miles of forest, including many trees on DNR-managed state trust land. Perhaps the most dramatic view of the event is this photo taken at the moment of eruption by a former DNR employee, Keith Stoffel, who was on a weekend sightseeing trip that day. Stoffel, his wife and the pilot of the small plane they had chartered barely escaped with their lives — the pilot had to put the plane into a full throttle dive that reached an air speed of 200 knots to evade the rapidly expanding blast of ash and heat.

As Stoffel wrote later, “As we were looking directly down on the summit crater… the northern side of the summit crater began to move as one gigantic mass. The entire mass began to ripple and churn up, without moving laterally. Then the entire north side of the summit began sliding to the north… I was amazed and excited with the realization that we were watching this landslide of unbelievable porportions slide down the north side of the mountain toward Spirit Lake. We took pictures of the slide sequence occurring, but before we could snap off more than a few pictures, a huge explosion blasted out…” See Stoffel’s full report and other information on DNR’s Mount St. Helens information page

See more photos of Mount St. Helens before and after the May 18, 1980, eruption on DNR’s Flickr page

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