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Thursday, June 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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40 years ago at Mount St. Helens: Harmonic tremor warns of potential huge blast

An explosion from Mount St. Helens sent a plume of steam and ash more than 16,000 feet into the atmosphere, The Spokesman-Review reported on March 31, 1980. (Spokesman-Review archives.)
An explosion from Mount St. Helens sent a plume of steam and ash more than 16,000 feet into the atmosphere, The Spokesman-Review reported on March 31, 1980. (Spokesman-Review archives.)

Note to readers: For the next few Sundays, we’ll be going back 40 years, instead of the usual 100 years, to chronicle the news that was coming out of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

On March 29, 1980, The Spokesman-Review’s front page photo showed Mount St. Helens’ pristine white cone – and a plume of steam and ash coming out the top.

The accompanying story noted that new eruptions were producing gases, steam and ash clouds that rose to 17,000 feet. Chunks of rock, ripped from the old volcano vent, “exploded 100 to 200 feet in the air.”

This was alarming, but apparently it was also “exciting.”

“This is the first real volcanic activity in the Cascade Range that can be studied with modern instruments, so I think everybody is terribly excited about what is going on,” said Gov. Dixy Lee Ray.

She also said “we do have to keep in mind that there is a potential for a great deal of destruction.”

The next day, The Spokesman-Review attempted to reassure Spokane residents by noting the painfully obvious: Mount Spokane is not a volcano!

A scientist said the chances of volcanic activity on Mount Spokane were “zip and next to zip.” And that other mountain was 240 miles away!

The next day Mount St. Helens rained some ash on Portland, but none on Spokane because there was no southwesterly wind. The day after that, Mount St. Helens had fewer eruptions – but slightly bigger ones.

By April 3, the mountain exhibited its most alarming sign yet – a harmonic tremor, indicating molten magma was moving up into the volcano. The Spokesman-Review’s headline was “Mountain Goes Wild!” and scientists were now warning of a potential huge blast.

On April 4, Gov. Ray declared a state of emergency in the area around the volcano. The paper ran a story warning people to stay indoors if a heavy fall of ash were to occur.

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