Editor’s note:Readers submitted the following stories about the Eastern Washington skies after the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.
Winter and its ‘ashflakes’ follow spring
I was living in Richland and was a senior in high school. At the time of the eruption, I was working part-time at the Hanford area. There was a kind of eeriness seeing this massive, black ashen plume of smoke in the process of dominating a clear blue sky. It was a beautiful spring day. It was incredible and scary. It was the only time in my life I saw “winter” follow spring with “ashflakes” and grit covering everything.
Dawn Biehl, Spokane
Church sermon bookmarked by blue sky, then black
I was just a few days away from my fourth birthday when the mountain decided to blow. At that time my family lived out in Cowiche, Wash., and our grandma and aunt were visiting from Seattle that weekend. What a beautiful sunny morning we had as we headed out the door to St. Peter’s for church. I clearly remember that as the sermon was being said we all heard a thunderous clap in the sky. It shook the ground and felt a bit as if a semi-truck crashed into the vestibule. Believing it nothing more than a good spring thunderstorm we continued with the service.
Once we were outside and saw how black the sky had become, the adults knew it wasn’t about to rain. As kids we thought it was going to be a great show of lightning and more thunder. Then as we were walking home white flakes were falling out of the air. I remember holding my hands out to catch what I thought was snow only to have sand land there.
My dad started to run us all home as fast as we could go. He picked me up and told me not to touch what was falling. I told him that the dirt was soft and it felt funny to have sand in the air and not on the ground like at the beach.
In the moments that it took to cross the street from St. Peter’s, it looked like midnight outside with a strange covering of dirt all over. I kept telling my mom I needed to get my pajamas on. It was dark and what do all almost 4 year olds do when it gets dark? They go to bed.
The TV was on all day as they tried to figure out what was going on. We didn’t know if the chickens, rabbits, cats and dog were going to be OK out there in the open. We were just going to have to wait and see in the morning. I remember my parents being scared, even if they didn’t say it out loud. My parents, grandma and aunt were so quiet the next two days it was strange. Being cooped up inside the house with four kids didn’t make it any easier either! That summer we had the best crops ever.
Rebekah Haler, Post Falls
Eastern horizon light guided trip from Tri-Cities
On the Sunday morning when Mount St. Helens erupted, I was in the Tri-Cities attending a weekend seminar. On our mid-morning break, we saw the sky to the west darkening and someone said that Mount St. Helens had erupted. All I could think of was that if that dark cloud to the west was ash from the volcano, it was coming this way and it would drop somewhere. So me and another attendee at the seminar left for home in Spokane immediately (raced would be more like it). As we drove toward Spokane, the sky grew darker and darker until we could only see a band of light along the eastern horizon. We made it to Spokane, went into our houses, and locked our doors as the sky darkened to pitch black. I remember wondering: What was going on outside? Was ash falling? How much? Would it be poisonous? What would happen now? The next few days, actually weeks, were unreal. No one knew how dangerous the ash was or how to get rid of it. By the way, those from Spokane who attended the Tri-Cities seminar and did not leave when we did had to spend several days in Ritzville because of the heavier ash accumulation in Ritzville. I think the uniqueness of the experience on May 18, 1980, will forever be etched in my mind.
Isolated living adds to apocalyptic fears
I was living on the outskirts of Deary, Idaho, in a single wide mobile home. I was roughing it, no TV or telephone. I didn’t even have a car. People picked me up for work during the week. I got up that morning and was excited to see such a bright and sunny day. I had great plans of doing laundry and hanging it out on the clothesline. As I looked toward the mountains, I noticed a kind of pinkish-gray cloud on the horizon. As the day wore on, it got bigger and closer. I thought to myself, we are going to have a doozy of a storm later.
By the afternoon it looked apocalyptic outside. There was no wind, and it was eerily quiet. The birds had stopped singing; it was getting darker by the minute. Then it started snowing. I was getting pretty freaked out. When I realized it was ash falling, I thought it was the end of the world. I thought we had been nuked. It didn’t help that people who had radios and TVs were being warned not to drive around because of damage to their engines, so there was not even any traffic on the roads. It was very scary, especially after being raised with the idea that nuclear attack was a real threat. I don’t remember how I found out it was a volcano hundreds of miles away that was causing the ash, but I do remember it was a freaky day.
Delayed graduation, sleepless nights and pushups
I have a couple of awesome memories of the eruption. I stayed Saturday night with some friends, got up a little late and heard nothing about the eruption. We didn’t even turn on the TV. We continued to slack off the rest of the day, until about 2:30 p.m. when we noticed a cloud coming in. By 3 p.m. it was dark – no, black. You could not see anything. Finally someone told us that St. Helens had erupted. It also happens to be my mom’s birthday.
It delayed my high school graduation by a week. I graduated high school May 28 and partied that night. On May 29, I was placed on an airplane to a U.S. Navy recruit training center in San Diego, so no sleep that night. The next night, I had about 3 hours. I was the first person in my boot camp company to do pushups … when I fell asleep during a lecture.
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