Mount St. Helens: The big blast was 34 years ago on this date

Mount St. Helens explodes
On the morning of May 18, 1980, Keith Stoffel, then a DNR employee, took this photo while on a sightseeing flight over Mount St. Helens. It is the only known image of the initial eruption. Stoffel, his wife and the plane’s pilot narrowly escaped the rapidly spreading ash cloud. Photo: Keith Stoffel (c) 2010.

After weeks of rumbling, Mount St. Helens exploded to life on May 18, 1980, producing a powerful blast that destroyed 230 square miles of national, state and private forest, and took 57 lives. Some of those who died from the powerful shock waves and clouds of hot ash and superheated gases were several miles away. Others drowned when lahars — mud flows — spilled down local valleys and river beds.

Today, a 110,000-acre area around the mountain is a National Volcanic Monument. The mountain has been a lot quieter since the events of May 1980; several steam eruptions occurred in 2004, but caused no injuries or deaths.

In its role as the state’s geologic survey, DNR’s Geology and Earth Resources Division works with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies to monitor Mount St. Helens and the other active volcanoes in Washington State. We also create and disseminate maps and other information to help citizens, government agencies, and emergency planners prepare for eventual re-awakening of any of the five active volcanos in our state.

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

Learn more about the 1980 eruption and its after-effects on our Mount St. Helens information page.

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