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It’s May 18th And For Some Of Us, We Will Never Forget

May 18, 2018

It’s been 38 years and I remember it like it was yesterday.

May 18, 1980. I was 16 years old. It was a Sunday. My older brother and I were getting ready to leave from church. We lived in Lacey, Washington. Lacey is a suburb of Olympia, which is pretty much a suburb of Seattle which lies 40 miles to the North.

But, our attention that Sunday morning, all those years ago was South, not North. One hundred and twenty-five miles from Olympia, or about 100 miles as the crow flies is Mount Saint Helens.

Prior to its explosion, it was one of the prettiest looking mountains in the Cascade range. Located a few miles from Portland, it was a popular hiking destination. Mount Saint Helens had the longest “slide path” of any mountain in the Cascades. You could start near the top and using an ice axe for a brake, slide down for thousands of feet.

The explosion that Sunday morning blew about 1300 feet off the top of the mountain. Rather than a rounded dome, it now sports a mile wide crater on the top. The ash cloud went over 15 miles into the air. More than high enough for us to see it from our front porch in Lacey, Washington.

Looking South, we could see what looked like a bank of clouds. But, if you paid close attention, the clouds were alive, continuing to grown and morph in the clear morning sky.

Mount Saint Helens had been active for awhile. No one was surprised it blew up. The intensity was unexpected. The initial blast, in addition to blowing 1300 feet off the top of the mountian, flattened about 230 square miles of vegetation, mostly Douglas Fir, Cedar, Hemlock and other evergreens native to Washington. Over the next nine hours it threw more than 0.67 cubic miles of ash into the air. It had a force of 24 megatons of thermal energy. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima had over a thousand times less energy at 15 kilotons.

It killed 57 people.

The ash cloud would eventually circle the globe, but first it turned day to night for Eastern Washington. The ash fell like snow. But snow that would not melt. It got everywhere. Cars sucked it into their engines, clogging filters and freezing engines. It piled up on roofs, threatening to collapse them under its weight. It covered acres and acres of seedlings that were just starting to sprout. But, in a strange benefit, after causing so much harm, the ash on the fields turned out to be a blessing. The crops thrived under their thick grey blanket and grew bigger than ever.

I went to work for my grandfather the following summer in 1981, and as we drove farm trucks in and out of a field, the entrance would quickly turn to a dust bowl several inches thick.

Mount Saint Helens was the most expensive and destructive volcanic eruption in American History.

And it happened 38 years ago today. Those of us who lived through it will never forget it.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

Follow him on
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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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