COVID-19 pandemic forces another virtual commemoration of Mt. St. Helens eruption

Johnston Ridge Observatory remains closed as pandemic restrictions ease

Archive footage of the Mount St. Helens eruption.
Archive footage of the Mount St. Helens eruption.

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.

On the 41st anniversary of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption there was a series of events along with a question and answer session on Reddit with scientists. (Washington State Emergency Management)

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.

Magnitude 5.1 earthquake triggered the collapse of the north flank resulting in the largest landslide ever recorded. (Gifford Pinchot National Forest)

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.

FILE - In this May 20, 1980, file photo, a wrecked logging truck and crawler tractor are shown amidst ash and downed trees near Mount St. Helens two days after the volcano erupted in Washington State. May 18, 2020, is the 40th anniversary of the eruption. (AP Photo/File) (Copyright 1980 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.

Shows a copy of telex delivered to the Washington Govenor 41 years ago. Describes the ash plume and other devastating events as a result from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. (Washington State Archives)

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.

FILE - In this May 19, 1980, file photo, clouds of ash from the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano move over the Ephrata Airport in Ephrata, Wash. May 18, 2020, is the 40th anniversary of the eruption, which darkened skies and sent volcanic ash falling for hundreds of miles. (AP Photo/Mike Cash, File) (Copyright 1980 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

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.

About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.