Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30, 1980

It's been nearly three weeks since an update on my recollections from the eruption of Mt. St Helens 30 years ago this spring. This morning, Eric Klemetti at the Eruptions blog sent out a call for St Helens memories, and pointed me at a resource I hadn't seen before, the Cascade Volcano Observatory's St Helens 30th anniversary page. (Actually, cross-checking, it looks like the same material I've been using previously, from the Mt. St Helens National Volcanic Monument, though the CVO page is likely the source) And given what I found there, today would be a good day for an update.

As I commented on April 10, between living in an unfamiliar place with a lot of unfamiliar people, coping with a return to school after nearly three years, and my initial excitement with having the volcano getting all uppity just for my sake (as it kind of seemed at the time), most of the month between the middle of April and the middle of May was a bit of a let down. There would be reports on the number of quakes, whether there had been an ash plume, and if so how high it went. We would be told the the north face has bulged out some number of feet farther. But the reports became shorter and more and more repetitive. In the Oregonian, they were moved further and further back into the front section. For the most part, the volcano was no longer front page news.

Desperate then, as now, for some angle, journalists spent more time with Harry Truman at the Mt. St Helens Lodge than with the scientists. I was heartily sick of the man. An obvious publicity hound, I have no doubt he fully expected the whole thing to blow over, and reap plenty of income from the free exposure. Much as I'm ashamed to admit it, I was hoping the mountain would fall on him.

Mt. St Helens had become, if not boring or dull, routine. There was, to me, at the time, no sense of narrative or development. The volcano, as awesome and beautiful as it was, was no longer a major attention-getter for me. Yeah, I'd go through the paper nearly every day and clip every article I could find, but most of those articles said basically the same things, over and over.

However, I distinctly remember this news, from 30 years ago today: "During the quiet, USGS geologist Dave Johnston sampled water from a small pond that had formed in the crater bottom." These pictures (archived here) give me the willies; even without 20/20 hindsight, I don't think I could have been persuaded to do this:
USGS geologist, David Johnston, enters crater of Mount St. Helens, April 30, 1980, image by Rick Hoblitt, USGS
USGS geologist, David Johnston, samples water of Mount St. Helens crater lake, April 30, 1980, image by Rick Hoblitt, USGS

So it wouldn't be fair to say I'd quit paying attention, but rather that I often felt as if it wasn't really worth paying attention to it. Still, the bulge and that massive gash across the top of the peak were pretty damned ominous...
Aerial view of Mount St. Helens' summit crater as seen from the west, May 2, 1980, image by C.Dan Miller, USGS

This is part 8 in a multi-part series on the events leading up to the catastrophic eruption of Mt. St Helens on May 18th, 1980, 30 years ago this spring. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

1 comment:

Mary E. Trimble said...

Although my husband and I were in Africa with the Peace Corps at the time of the eruption, we visited the mountain as soon as possible after we returned. I have always been fascinated with this event. This year my third novel, Tenderfoot, a romantic suspense with a sub-plot of the MSH 1980 eruption, was released. It's been fun hearing people's memories of the incident.

Mary Trimble