I may be cutting off more than I can chew but let’s give it a try. We are told that the Pacific plate is pushing into, and under, the North American plate along the Pacific coast. This is said to account for the many earthquakes in California and the many volcanoes to the north in the Cascade mountains of Oregon and Washington. Some of the prominent volcanoes going south from the Canadian border are Mt. Baker at 10775 ft. and farther south Mt. Rainer at 14411 ft., Mt Adams at 12307 ft., Mt. ST. Helens at 9671ft.,and nearer the coast and over the line into Oregon, Mt. Hood at 11253 ft.. My interest in this letter is in little Mt St. Helens. But, there is a remark I wanted to include, probably by a ‘Washingtonian’, about Mt Hood. Portland is know to be overly free with it’s rainfall. Mt. Hood lays 40 miles east of Portland and “if you look out the window and can’t see Mt. Hood, you know its raining. If you can see it, Its only fixing to rain”. Oh well.
Both Margie and myself were raised in the Midwest and were fascinated with the mountains when we came to the state of Washington. We were raised as farmers and felt more at home on the east side of the Cascade Mountains than on the forrested west side near Puget Sound. We did have relatives on the coastal side and made trips over that way, frequently. We were awed at the sight of Mt. Rainier towering up there 14411ft. almost, from sea-level. That mountain could not be considered as typical of the Cascades as they only averaged about 5000 ft. Even Mt. St. Helen, at 9671 ft. was almost dwarfed by Rainier, though some 40 miles farther beyond. That was up until 1980 when maybe, it began to complain about it’s size. In the spring of 1980, St Helens began to act up. First there was some earthquake activity. Then came a small eruption of steam and a little ash . Exciting but nothing spectacular. Over a period of weeks it shuddered and rumbled but nothing much happened. However in the early part of May, it began to develop a definite bulge on the north side of the peak. This continued to grow and expand. I don’t have the measurements at hand but it was a matter of a couple of hundred feet. Interest was high by his time and we watched the newscasts very closely not knowing what to expect. Then on May 18, 1980. the blast came. The whole north side blew away with an explosion that was heard 200 miles away. Bill and Debbie had taken a college aged group from our church camping near the Canadian border and they heard it go off. Thousand of acres of forest were laid waste. Huge trees 6 feet or more in diameter, were thrown around like straw. But this is all history and whole books are available on the subject. The following account is from the notes that I made while the eruption was reaching our home, here in Ephrata, 160 miles away. Believe me,it was an experience never to be forgotten.
Sunday, May 18, 1980. (Notes taken at time of eruption)
We started the day like other bright, sunny, Spring morning. At breakfast, we thanked the Lord for whatever the day might bring forth. But before the day was over we had cause to question our sincerity. At Church, that morning and just before the Service took up, at 10:45, a friend, Don Wallace, told me they had just heard on the radio that Mt. St. Helen had blown it’s top/ literally. I went outside and saw, what looked like, a black storm cloud across the south and west that reached to a position of about 11 o’clock.
Shortly after church took up, at 11:00 a.m., the windows began to darken and by 12:00, noon, it was like an early twilight with headlights needed on the cars. At 1:00 p.m., it had become pitch black with ash beginning to fall and a slight sulfur smell could be detected. Soon ash was falling, so heavily that visibility was near zero. The darkness began to lessen by 3:00 p,m,. During the peak, we could not distinguish the features of the house next door, about 65 feet away. We had no idea of how wide the path of fall-out of the ash was but it turned out that it was 40 miles, or more, and we, fortunately, were near the north edge and only we got less than 1/2 inch of ash, where, 20 miles south of us, they cleared 2 inches from their roofs, every place, as well. Yakima, some distance back in the path, had several inches to contend with.
There is much ash in the air and we have washed it from the garden, trees and roses, several times, today. We don’t know if it is still falling or has been stirred up. The sun could not be seen, this morning until about 9:30 , and then it was nearly obscured. The sky is strangely overcast but not from clouds and the humidity is very low.
Going back to the air cleaners, our boys, in their store, next door, have already sold more than half the filters they usually stock and could have sold many more of the popular numbers. The Highway Department showed us one that was completely plugged with only 30 miles of driving. Most business houses in town are closed, as well as the schools. The local radio station keeps warning people to stay home and indoors. No cars are to be driven except in emergencies. Both of our boys walked to work this morning wearing breathing masks. Most of the people on the streets were wearing some kind if breathing mask. We have been fearful that the ash might be harmful, but it seems our fears are groundless as the reports are negative as to acid or sulfur. All rail, truck and air services have been at a stand still, due to danger of ash being abrasive.
Tuesday May 20th 1980
About 9:00 or 10:00 a.m, rail service was resumed and a couple of freight trucks made it into town. Highways are still closed to Spokane and Ellensburg and some stranded motorists are begging to be convoyed to Wenatchee, where the roads are open over Stevens Pass to the Seattle area.
Speed limits of 10 mph have been established, though not well observed. Moses Lake has forbidden all cars from the streets. It has been, reliably, reported that they have 3 to 4 inches, of ash fall-out, much more than we. The dry ash could be mistaken for Portland Cement, the same color and texture. I just heard on the radio that it weighs 90 to 100 pounds per cubic foot.. Days later we heard that the ash settling in western Montana in the Flat-head area, was as white and fine as talcum powder.
Thursday, May 22nd, 1980
A light rain fell last evening and this is first bright clear morning since the 18th. Friday. We rejoiced to soon. By noon the wind came up to 15 or 20 mph, out of the southwest and the air was filled with ash. Some of the roads are closed again, but not for long. Actually, in our area, The ash caused little damage and worked into the soil in a short time. it seemed to do no harm and neither was it of any benefit. I never heard a report of any damage in the area of the highest fall-out. There has been reports of the mountain attemping to rebuilding it’s peak but hasn’t made much head-way. Oh Well.