40 Years Ago Today, Volcanic Ash Rained Down on Us

Mount St. Helens blew its top on May 18, 1980
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 18, 2020 6:55 PM CDT
40 Years Ago Today, Mount St. Helens Blew
In this May 18, 1980, file photo, Mount St. Helens sends a plume of ash, smoke and debris skyward as it erupts. May 18, 2020, is the 40th anniversary of the eruption that killed more than 50 people and blasted more than 1,300 feet off the mountain's peak.   (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File)

The coronavirus outbreak disrupted what had been big plans to mark the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. The peak in the Cascade Mountain Range blew its top on May 18, 1980, killing 57 people, blasting more than 1,300 feet off the top of the mountain and raining volcanic ash around for hundreds of miles. But there will be no public observances at the volcano on Monday, reports the AP. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the main highway into the national volcanic monument is closed due to COVID-19, and the multiple visitor centers and museums that had planned remembrances are also shuttered.

"We’ve been thrown for quite a loop here," said Washington State Parks interpretive specialist Alysa Adams. "Please stay tuned for next year because I think we’re going to take all of this energy and passion and turn it into something productive for the 41st anniversary." The eruption produced huge, black and gray clouds of ash that rose more than 80,000 feet and eventually poured tiny granules of debris in cities and towns throughout the Northwest. The peak had experienced many smaller eruptions in the weeks preceding the big event. Within minutes of a 5.1 earthquake that hit at 8:32am on May 18, 1980, the volcano’s north flank collapsed, triggering the largest landslide in recorded history. The explosion scorched and flattened about 230 square miles of dense forest.

(Read more Mount St. Helens stories.)

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