I chose to write about the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. In my senior year of high school I did a small GIS project on the Oso mudslides of 2013/2014. During that project I found that an overarching factor in those mudslides and their severity was due to the 1980 eruption, and since then I’ve always wanted to know more about it!
On May 18, 1980 at approximately 8:32 am, Mount St. Helens erupted for the first time in over a hundred years. After a series of small earthquakes that started two months prior, that led to landslides that led to flooding that finally led to the eruption. Though it was closely monitored by geologists and volcanologists, Helens took everyone by surprise.
The volcano blew from its side, instead of its top as most would suspect. The result was an incredibly large cloud of ash that encompassed almost three states around Washington.
Since the USGS had watched Helens closely for the two months since the earthquakes started, they were relatively quick to act and clean up and work with the state and federal governments to help the people of Skamania county and its surrounding areas. The death toll today stands at ~57 people.
Today, Helens’ elevation has decreased significantly as shown in the figure above, and is watched even closer now. Because 1980 was the first time it had erupted in over one hundred years, there were no disaster prevention plans in place for Washington state that dealt specifically with volcanoes. Helens, however, gave them a reason to devise a plan. Now, Congress annually funds different Volcano Observatory programs across the United States in hopes of preventing a repeat of 1980.