May 18

1980 — Eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State


“The people of Skamania County could see it:  the active volcano was part of their skyline.  Imagine what that must have been like, living under that threat — especially after the earthquake stirred things up in March of that year, the steam pressure building up, and then a second earthquake triggered the massive eruption on May 18th.

“Deadliest one in the US, at the time.  Killed almost 60 people.  The north side of the volcano collapsed, and an avalanche of volcanic mudflow destroyed buildings and bridges.  And the ash cloud, spewing up for hours and hours and hours, blackening the sky, practically turning off the sun.

“The people of Skamania County could see it, like I said.  But after a while, more of us could.  The ash cloud traveled, blocking out the sun in nearby states.  By the next day, it reached into Canada, as far east as Idaho.  I was a kid in Boise, then.  They cancelled school, and we joked that it was an ‘Ash Day’ instead of a ‘Snow Day.’  My brother and I made five dollars cleaning the ash off Dad’s car.

“We were kids.  We didn’t understand how serious it was — or how much more serious it could have been.  More ash, more blockage of the sun, and the weather patterns could change, the air could grow unsafe to breathe.  All of this could happen, even though the volcano was somewhere else, on somebody else’s skyline.

“Do you understand what I’m trying to say, kids?  That far away eruption, the one you saw on the television — it may seem like it won’t affect you.  We’re hearing about the steam and the cloud of ash, still erupting in the atmosphere with no sign of stopping.  That means, I think you realize, that our neighbors a few states over are in big trouble.

“But the wind is blowing in our direction.  The ash cloud is headed this way…”