What were you doing the day Mt. St. Helens blew it's top?

LFor those under the age of 41, this question doesn’t apply to you. The following is my story of the historical Pacific Northwest day.

Sunday, May 18. 1980, at 8:32 AM, a significant eruption of Mt. St Helens occurred.


​(unknown photographer)

I was 16. I was with my dad and cousin at a bass fishing tournament on Silver Lake in Cowlitz County (only about 30 miles West of Mt. St. Helens). It was a beautiful, clear, sunny morning.

We had hoped for a visible steam or ash plume over the weekend, but Saturday and early Sunday morning were quiet. I felt lucky to have seen similar events during the months leading up to this day.

It was around 8:30 AM when we headed back to shore for my dad to use the facilities. While motoring back to the resort, my dad directed my attention to the mountain. We watched in awe the initial blast and landslide. Mt. St Helens then disappeared from view.

(unknown photographer)

We arrived at the resort. With a fear of the unknown, people were packing up their RVs, hauling their boats out of the water. My dad observed the chaos, waiting for things around the campground to calm down.

Word came that the Interstate 5 bridge over the Toutle River had closed, our primary route home. My dad made the decision that we were staying for a while longer. We drove the boat over to a lake-side store with a dock. My dad went inside the store and bought beer, then headed to the middle of the lake. We sat and watched the ash plume (this is nothing I would recommend doing today - times were different).

(unknown photographer)

After a few hours, word came that the Toutle River bridge had reopened. That’s when we loaded the boat on the trailer and headed home.

Even though we were only about 30 miles from the mountain, ash never fell on us. Most of the ash ended up in eastern Washington. My heart goes out for what the residents of the Yakima area had to endure. The sky got dark, and the temperature cooled as the ash cloud blocked out the morning sun. An incredible phenomenon was all the lightning in the ash cloud. From our vantage point, we did not hear an explosion. One possibility was because the boat motor was running.

This experience is something that I’ll never forget. I’m fortunate to witness geological history in the making.

What were you doing that day?

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