The Eruption of Mount St. Helens 36 Years Ago

By | February 22, 2017

The ground shook underneath Mount St. Helens in Washington state. It was May 18th, 1980, at 8:32 a.m., when a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck and brought about one of the largest landslides recorded in history. An entire slope, north of the volcano, slid away.

As the land shifted, it exposed the core of the volcano with great heat that it set off gigantic explosions and steam eruptions, including ash and rock debris. Heard even hundreds of miles away, the blast's pressure wave flattened the entire forests, the heat caused the glaciers to melt and set off catastrophic mudflows, and worst of all, 57 people lost their lives.

The ash that erupted shot up 80,000 feet toward the atmosphere for more than 10 hours, depositing ash all over Eastern Washington and 10 other states. Here are photos of the volcano and the fateful eruption in 1980.

Ash surges from the crater where the peak of Mount St. Helens had been only a few hours earlier during a fatal eruption on May 18th, 1980. (USGS/Robert Krimmel)
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Mount St. Helens during the day before the eruption, May 17, 1980, viewed from what is now known as Johnston Ridge, about six miles away the volcano. (AP Photo/USGS, Harry Glicken)
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Dave Johnston, a USGS vulcanologist, collects specimens from Mount St. Helens crater lake during April 30, 1980. Earthquakes lasting 2 months and other minor eruptions as well brought many onlookers and scientists to the volcano for study. (USGS/R.P. Hoblitt)
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This photo taken on May 17, 1980, a 30-year old vulcanologist David Johnston is seen at his camp near what became known as Johnston Ridge near Mount St. Helens. The following day, at 8:32 a.m., Johnston hurriedly radioed a message to the USGS headquarters: "Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!". That was shortly before his demise caused by the massive volcano eruption that also killed 56 others. (AP Photo/USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory, Harry Glicken)
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Photo of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 showing the intensity of the eruption compared with the apparently quiet countryside, that is Mount Adams in the background, right. (USGS photo)
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Ash and steam billow against the crater of erupting Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. (USGS photo)
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Thick boiling hot mudflows begin to move downstream coming from the blast material delivered in the North Fork Toutle River valley downslope from Mount St. Helens' eruption on May 18, 1980. This mudflow took about nine hours to build in size enough to reach through the blasted products and move downstream towards the Cowlitz River valley. The mudflow coming from the South Fork Toutle River arrived at Castle Rock, Washington three hours after the eruption, which was about 45 miles from the volcano. (Harry Glicken)
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Bob Brown (right), John Brown and then two other unidentified individuals are shown May 19, 1980 mounting onto a railroad car, heading down the train. The potential horse rescuers gave up and fled for their lives when the flood waters from the Toutle River started to suddenly rise. All four of them reached safety, however, the horses were sadly presumed to have drowned. (AP Photo/Gary Stewart)
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A photo of Mount St. Helens in eruption. This is an aerial view of the volcano and the eruptive column on May 18th, 1980. (USGS photo)
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Mount St. Helens sends a pique of ash, smoke and volcano debris skyward as seen in this May 18, 1980 photo. The ash plume is being hoisted eastward by prevailing winds, causing ash to be deposited across several states. (AP Photo/US Geological Survey)
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A satellite image illustrates the eastward spread of the carried ash plume across Washington state from the eruption of Mount St. Helens, which was approximately one hour after the first eruption. (NOAA)
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Ashen clouds from the volcanic eruption move over Ephrata airport in Washington on Monday, May 19, 1980. (AP Photo/Mike Cash)
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A car is seen submerged in ash in this photo from Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington State. (AP Photo)
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This aerial view from a search and rescue helicopter taken on May 23, 1980 shows the new crater on Mount St. Helens created by Sunday's massive eruption. Scientists construed St. Helens' new horseshoe-shaped crater as around 5,000 feet deep and also about 2 1/2 miles wide north to south. (AP Photo/Gary Stewart)
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A splintered stump is the only remains of a tree which had grown on a now-desolate ridge along the North Fork Toutle River which is near Mount St. Helens. (USGS/S.W. Kieffer)
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Massive destruction of trees in the Green River valley shown on June 2, 1980. The flattening of the forest resulting from the eruption of Mount St. Helens. (USGS/J. DeVine)
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For several weeks, volcanic ash covered the landscape all around the volcano as well as hundreds of miles downwind to the east. In this picture, a helicopter whip up ash as it tries to land in the devastated field on August 22nd, 1980. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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Harold Kolb, an Army National Guard helicopter pilot, rescues two men and their sons among the devastated are. One man's hands can be seen burned, this was from his tent melting around him. (Washington National Guard)
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A pyroclastic flow surges down the side of Mount St. Helens, shot on August 7, 1980. (USGS photo)
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The melted Dashboard of a certain pickup truck on ridge top about 14 km north from Mount St. Helens, demonstrating the powerful heat produced by the volcanic blast. Photo captured on June 18, 1980. (USGS photo)
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An aerial view of a certain bridge in the North Fork Toutle River valley which had been crushed by logs and rocks, then got partially buried under a massive mudflow. (USGS photo)
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A helicopter rests among the measuring instruments on Harrys Ridge taken on September 30, 1980, which was five miles north of Mount St. Helens' crater. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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A camper with two victims of the Mount St. Helens eruption sits among the gray landscape which was about 8 miles from the mountain. Marks in front of and behind the camper were left on the volcanic ash by a helicopter and a searcher who discovered the victims on Tuesday, May 20, 1980. (AP Photo)
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An aerial view of Fawn Lake, located inside the blast zone on October 28, 1980 (note Mount St. Helens in the background). Observe as well the USGS scientists riding in a small boat in the middle of the lake perhaps taking water samples. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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Blowdown covers a hillside. This shows how the lateral blast of Mount St. Helens eruption followed the contours of the landscape. This was taken on August 22, 1980 near the North Fork Toutle River. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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A mudflow deposit wraps around Washington State Highway 504 along the town of Toutle, that is northwest of Mount St. Helens, the depth goes down 2m (6 ft). Geologist for scale. (USGS/R.L. Schuster)
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Almost 135 miles (220 kilometers) of river channels that surrounded the volcano were affected by the destructive mudflows of May 18, 1980. A mark of dirty line left behind on tree trunks is showing the depth reached by the mud. A scientist (middle right) provides scale. This view is near the Muddy River, southeast of the erupted volcano on October 23, 1980. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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A vehicle wrapped around tree as caused by the mudflow impact on the North Fork Toutle River on July 11, 1980, near Camp Baker, northwest of Mount St. Helens in Washington state. (USGS photo)
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A photo of a wrecked logging truck and a crawler tractor seen amidst ash and fallen trees near Mount St. Helens on May 20, 1980, two days after the disastrous eruption. (AP Photo)
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Thousands of destroyed trees in the North Fork Toutle River drainage area can be seen blown down by the impact of the May 18, 1980, eruption of Mount St. Helens on Aug. 22, 1980. (AP Photo/USGS, Lyn Topinka)
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The streets of Yakima, Washington become dark at 3:00 PM after an explosive eruption at Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Light gray ash covered the streets and all passersby wore masks to avert from breathing the ash. (AP Photo)
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During this 1980 photo, an auto dealership worker in Moscow, Idaho used a blower to expel ash from the volcanic eruption in Washington state, over 350 miles away, from a car. (AP Photo/Moscow-Pullman Daily News)
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Colorful ponds dot the debris avalanche on the slopes of Mount St. Helens. Their chemical composition highly changeable and affecting the color of the water. This photo was taken on August 8, 1981. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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Mount St. Helens ejects smoke and ash skyward when the volcano erupted again on October 17th, 1980. (AP Photo/Jack Smith)
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As Mount St. Helens erupted, the gigantic landslide that preceded actually displaced all of the water of the adjacent Spirit Lake. The water washed up hillsides, then splurged back down, dragging every debris and fallen trees toward its new lakebed. This picture taken March 29, 2007 shows just a part of the thousands of trees that lingered floating in a giant raft above the surface of the lake to this day. (USGS/Cindy Werner)
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The peculiar bloom of a Fireweed is seen with Spirit Lake in the background. Photo taken on September 4, 1984. (USGS/Lyn Topinka)
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In this May 7, 2010 picture, a timed exposure highlights Mount St. Helens against a backdrop of myriad stars and the risen moon at left, in Washington state. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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