Washington – To commemorate the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington that happened on May 18, 1980, a series of events and Q&A sessions with volcanologists and seismologists took place online due to COVID-19.
The same thing happened last year commemorating the 40th year of the historical eruption.
As pandemic restrictions begin to ease, all eyes are on the Johnston Ridge Observatory which remains closed. This popular tourist stop sits in the heart of the blast zone roughly almost 5 miles away from the volcano.
The latest website update still says a firm reopening date has not been determined. Visitors can still enjoy the view in the plaza area behind the building and even stroll down the first .25 mile of Eruption trail. There are other trails open as well as campsites, however visitors are urged to note changes in reservation availability before planning a trip.
A magnitude 5 earthquake triggered the eruption of Mt. St Helens on the morning of May 18, 1980 and is still the deadliest and most destructive volcanic eruption to happen in the U.S. That day, 57 people died including volcanologist Dr. David Johnston along with thousands of animals.
The largest debris avalanche in recorded history on Earth happened at the same time as the earthquake and covered up to 14 miles of land down the mountain. This landslide removed the cryptodome, a very hot and pressurized body of magma. The lateral blast sent hot debris traveling up to 670 mph destroying about 230 square miles of forest and everything in it within minutes. The direct blast zone, roughly up to eight miles away from the volcano, was where trees were carried away. Up to 19 miles out dense forests were blown over like blades of grass.
Mudflows and flooding in addition to the blast and avalanche changed the landscape forever. The eruption lasted 9 hours spewing ash over 12 miles high falling in nearby states like snow and traveling the globe for two weeks.
Within the first 15 minutes of the blast, ash rose over 80,000 feet into the air and was so thick it turned daylight to darkness over parts of eastern Washington.
The landscape over forty years later has recovered from looking like the surface of the moon to a rich habitat full of plants and animals.