What Mount St. Helens Means to a Washington Native

Today, Washingtonians observe the day that Mount St. Helens blew its top. In fact, this year’s date is a milestone––we are talking 40 years! On May 18, 1980, the active volcano in the western part of Washington state erupted, spewing ash EVERYWHERE.

Mount St. Helens was a massive volcanic eruption that happened 40 years ago on May 18, 1980. (Photo courtesy of the USGS).

This event has cemented itself in the fabric of the Evergreen State. As a kid, Mount St. Helens was basically the central part of our science curriculum in grade school. We learned all about the eruption. Teachers would bring in ash, homework assignments entailed us interviewing our parents about what they remembered from the day, and we would “blow up” the cliché vinegar/baking soda volcano.

Our local library had countless books on Mount St. Helens, everyone still hung newspapers in random spots from the fateful day, and you weren’t worth a damn if your parents didn’t have a secret stash of ash somewhere. The eruption had taken place nearly two decades ago but Mount St. Helens mania was still alive and well.

My parents have held onto a Yakima Valley Community newspaper from May 19, 2020.

Fast forward another 20 years and the transformative event has not lost a bit of luster. I did have to return within state lines to feel it, but the anniversary is as significant now as it was when I was a kid. Case in point: the local newspaper is doing a SEVENTEEN-day series on the explosion. My department at Washington State University has written some brilliant pieces on the monumental event. Tonight, Mount St. Helens coverage led off newscasts statewide.

How did I explain Mount St. Helens to my southern wife? I told her the volcano is on the same level in Washington as Hurricane Hugo is in South Carolina.

For all the scientific glory and state pride that surrounds Mount St. Helens, it is important to remember that people did lose their lives 40 years ago. Sadly, 57 people perished in the explosion.

There is no doubt, Mount St. Helens has proven staying power. Although the mountain blew several years before I was born, sometimes I feel like I was alive that day––the sign of an event that has truly been thoroughly documented in a community’s historical record. Don’t Blink.

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