Mount Baker: Tons of snow and ice atop a sleeping volcano

Mount Baker
As the second-most glaciated mountain in the Cascades, an volcanic eruption on Mount Baker could produce deadly lahars in several populated river drainages. Photo: USGS.

Volcano Awareness Month and our countdown to the 33rd anniversary of the Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980, eruption continue with a look at Mount Baker. The main hazards posed by this active volcano in central Whatcom County are debris flows and debris avalanches from its considerable glaciers and snowpack–events that can occur even without a volcanic eruption.

Mount Baker has been mostly quiet since the mid-19th century when several explosions were seen from Bellingham – a mere 30 miles due west. It perked up in 1975 with several large emissions of volcanic gases. As the second-most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states, Mount Baker presents similar mudslide dangers as Mount Rainier (the mountain with the largest glacier cover in the lower-48 states).

It’s quiet… for now.   

Mount Baker is not showing any signs of renewed volcanic activity but someday it will, which is why DNR and its Division of Geology and Earth Resources help map, monitor and educate the public, governments and others about geologic hazards, including Mount Baker and other volcanoes in the Cascades.

The area nearest to Mount Baker is still largely unpopulated but now we have the town of Concrete and other settlements along State Highway 20, a few miles away. And then there is Bellingham and other populated river drainages that would become pathways for deadly lahars in a future volcanic eruption.

Here is the current alert status for Cascade Range volcanoes, including Mount Baker, from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Cascades Volcano Observatory.

Have you visited any of the several wilderness or recreation areas that surround Mount Baker? Share your memories on DNR’s Facebook page.

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