Where were you, 30 years ago today?

May 18, 1980 is when Mount St Helens blew its top.


I was newly married, in my first year in graduate school in Eugene, Oregon — far enough south that we saw little of the ash, typically only seeing cars filmed with gray every day. My in-laws, though, all lived right in the shadow of the mountain, in Longview and Castle Rock, Washington, so we got regular reports on days dark as night and shoveling paths through the mess.

National Geographic has a fine article on the recovery of the region. Biology is bouncing back in the few decades since the disaster.

As a natural lab to study the rebirth of ecosystems, the blast zone has no equal. “It’s the most thoroughly studied large-forest disturbance in the world,” says Crisafulli, examined from nearly every angle, at nearly every scale, from molecules to ecosystems, bacteria to mammals, steaming geothermal vents to waterlogged meadows. Almost daily, callers inquire about the lessons of St. Helens. One woman is interested in salamanders, another in toads. Officials in Alaska and Chile want to know what to expect after eruptions of their own.

There’s also the dramatic story of Spirit Lake:

Before the eruption Spirit Lake was, like many subalpine lakes, unproductive and nutrient-poor, with clear water and few shallow spots. When the volcano top slid into it at 150 miles an hour, it became choked with what Crisafulli terms “pyrolyzed forest constituents”–organic material burned in the blast. The water was warmed to body temperature, filled with dissolved carbon, manganese, iron, and lead. Visibility went from 30 feet to six inches. Bacteria flourished. The first scientists to take water samples came down with unexplained ailments. There was a rapid succession of microbes: aerobes, which quickly used up all the oxygen; anaerobes, which require none; then nitrogen-consuming bacteria; and then forms that fed on methane and heavy metals. For 18 months Spirit Lake was ruled by chemistry, home to “hundreds of millions of bacteria per milliliter,” Crisafulli says. Finally, the microbes had consumed so much that they began to die off, and streams and snowmelt came in, and the water cleared.

Once light penetrated Spirit Lake, algae and other phytoplankton colonized, followed by zooplankton, which fed on the phytoplankton, followed by aquatic insects and amphibians. By the early 1990s, macrophytes grew in shallow shoals–ideal trout habitat that didn’t exist before the eruption. Gorging on tiny midges and freshwater snails, the rainbows were reaching a record four or five pounds in two or three years. The post-eruption lake followed a pattern Crisafulli would see many times in the blast zone. New organisms colonize the virgin environment with dramatic success, only to burn themselves out or be checked by predators, parasites, or competitors. This was the second revelation of St. Helens: When there’s a blank slate, ecological succession is a cycle of boom and bust.

If you’d just like to see some dramatic photos of the eruption and aftermath, here you go.


  1. Joel says

    I was celebrating my baby brother’s 2nd birthday.

    Yes, his “terrible twos” were ushered in by an awesome display of nature’s wrath. Mom saw that as an omen, and rightly so.

  2. jgulner says

    Well, I was 13 days old at the time. I don’t think that there were any complications that would have kept me in the hospital that long, so I was probably home, asleep.

  3. https://me.yahoo.com/a/KWqLlfZy1J6lgacPBbfx2AGjlAqfvm22oYs-#e49b6 says

    i was eighteen days old

  4. Glen Davidson says

    Biology is bouncing back in the few decades since the disaster.

    Yes, but that’s likely due to design.

    Sure, I recognize that small patches are found to regenerate quite evidently naturally. However, that’s just micro-recovery. Macro-recovery has yet to be shown to occur without intelligent intervention.

    Glen D

  5. KillJoy says

    I was 7 years old.
    I do remember the eruption, even though I was living in New Mexico at the time, not in Washington.
    It was all over the news. We even did some stuff about it in my 3rd grade (I think) science class.

    Now I live in Washington. I can’t see St Helens, but from my back porch I’ve got a good view of Mt. Ranier. :P


  6. curious tentacle says

    Helena, MT. Inside my mother’s uterus. I’d be born in another 5 months.

  7. srobert63 says

    Was not born yet. Not even a thought. But there is still ash if you dig deep in my parents back yard near downtown Portland.

    Did not know you studied in Eugene. Fun stuff. I’m currently finishing up my degree at Oregon.

  8. glenister_m says

    I would have been in grade 8 in Ottawa, Ontario.

    I first managed to visit Mt. St. Helen’s in 1995, and was amazed at the devastation that still existed.

    However I visited again a year or two ago, and was amazed at how much it had changed since my 1995 trip. At least to me, the landscape was still quite a moonscape in 1995, and it appeared that not too much had changed in 15 years. However the change in less than 15 years after that seemed quite dramatic.

    Nature does seem to recover in an exponential fashion.

  9. dickphd says

    I was probably kicking my Mom. Don’t remember. Wasn’t born just yet.

  10. DeadGuyKai says

    I was a freshman at MIT and glad to be on the other side of the continent from the volcano. Since then I’ve often thought about how excellent it would have been if Ian Curtis hadn’t hung himself that day.

    Still missing you after 30 years, Ian. Love will tear us apart, again.

  11. Celtic_Evolution says

    I was 8 years old and in 3rd grade… remember it was a big deal, but didn’t come to fully understand until several years later.

  12. bewarethelizards42 says

    I wasn’t even a twinkle in my Dad’s eye back in 1980.. :)

  13. Suzie B says

    I was 16 years old and living in Winnipeg. I can still remember the browny grey sky. I remember thinking if this was what the ‘dirty thirties’ were like. At least that is what I remember. I could be misremembering the year that we had a drought and it was very dusty.

  14. Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou says

    I was a collection of non-living raw materials, some of which weren’t even consumed by my parents yet, while my folks gave birth to my sister on their way to Chonburi (ชลบุรี).

  15. Eamon Knight says

    Working at my first post-college job, at the time standards lab, here in Ottawa[1]. For reasons I can’t recall (there actually was a good reason), there was a TV installed in the equipment rack, and I watched some of the coverage on that. We visited MSH in 1998; drove up to the Johnston Observatory (named after a geologist who got killed by the ejecta). Also went down Ape Cave, an old lava tube on the south side.

    [1] Sometimes wonder how different life might be if I’d stayed there instead of going off to the telecom sector.

  16. Caine, Fleur du mal says

    May 18th, 1980. I was 21 (turned 21 Nov. ’79), I had been married one year, two months and was living in Idyllwild, California. May 18th is my husband’s birthday (he was 25 that day). We were out hiking in the San Jacinto mountains.

  17. Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou says

    It would be 9 more years before I’d be born.

  18. KOPD says

    I was about 5 or 6 weeks old at the time, so I don’t rightly remember where I was. But, I’m pretty sure it was somewhere in Missouri.

  19. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    Did you guys and gals know that the erosion after the Mt. Saint Helens eruption proves that the great flood happened?

    No really really absolutely.

  20. nigelTheBold says

    Thorne Bay, Alaska. Preparing to get on the ferry, for a move to Cove, Oregon.

    The drive through Washington a month later was surreal.

  21. ecurve says

    I was 2.5, so don’t remember it–but I do remember it being in the news as something terrible that had happened in the not-too-distant past. And I remember that when I learned about volcanoes in elementary school science class, Mt. St. Helens was front and center.

    Copernico@17: I dimly remember that everyone was terrified of SEEKRIT SATANIC CULTS!!!! I imagine they caused the volcano.

  22. https://me.yahoo.com/a/2Cpr09BisvAGE8xTLScKqHa9oE8qMtok#e64de says

    I still had 4 years before I was even born… all of a sudden I feel really young here…


  23. kkisser says

    I was in Norfolk, VA celebrating my third birthday. I suspect cake was involved.

  24. InfraredEyes says

    I was working as a postdoc in London, Ontario. That summer, I took a month off and drove across Canada to Vancouver, then down to Seattle to visit friends. The AAA advised drivers to wrap toilet paper round the car’s air filter when driving in the Pacific northwest that year.

  25. kkisser says

    I should add that, here I am on my 33rd birthday living just outside of Portland. On a clear day you can see Mt St. Helens while driving into the city.

  26. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    I was 8 years old and probably in school cutting up and pissing off my teacher.

  27. Acronym Jim says

    Nigelthebold@23, you lived in Cove? I spent some time in Elgin. Small world (and smaller towns – oy)

    I was in eighth grade and remember getting in an argument with a classmate the next morning over whether or not the light layer of dust on our cars that morning was volcano ash.

  28. davem says

    Absolutely no idea whatsoever. But I do know exactly where I was on 11th Sep 2001, and on 22 Nov 1963…

  29. KillJoy says


    Ha ha ha! Oh man, totally off topic but yeah. The great satanic cult scare of the 80’s! There was a point where my crazy little hick town had parents patrolling the schools to make sure there were no kids nabbed for satanic sacrifices. Wheee.
    Gotta love credulity.


  30. brione2001 says

    I was newly relocated to Seattle from Illinois for a new job at Boeing. I woke up to the news of the eruption with surprise: volcanoes!?! (Yeah, I was an innocent from the Midwest and hadn’t really researched the area).

    In August, 1980 there was another eruption and I walked to the top of Magnolia Hill in Seattle, the area I was living, and took two pictures that I eventually stitched together. That eruption was the first (I recall) to ash Portland, OR.

    The camera is facing SSW and picture can be viewed here.

    You can just see Mt Rainier off to the left through the haze. You can also see how the blackness extends off to the right (West).

  31. ButchKitties says

    Did you guys and gals know that the erosion after the Mt. Saint Helens eruption proves that the great flood happened?

    And finding logs floating upright in Spirit Lake proves the same. Yellowstone’s petrified forests were dated incorrectly. They were deposited all at once in a flood, not in successive growth over long periods of time.

  32. socle says

    14 years old, living just outside Vancouver, WA, about 45 miles south of the mountain. I have a relative that worked for the forest service, and he had lots of interesting stories to tell about the eruption. Oh, and I also did my undergrad at UW and PhD at Oregon, just like PZ!

  33. Ben Goren says

    I was ten. We had just moved to Santa Rosa, California, early that year. I remember the ash falls, and being surprised that Grandma in Albany, California, got more ash than we did.

    A month or two later Dad flew Mom and me in a rented Cessna to British Columbia on a vacation. On the way back, we passed the mountain on the West side, almost (but not quite) as close as the plane that took that picture. The mountain was still smoking. About that same spot we also had an airliner fly up our tail, almost but not quite close enough to qualify as a “near miss.”

    Believe it or not, it was a fantastic trip and one of the best vacations I’ve ever had….



    EAC Memographer
    BAAWA Knight of Blasphemy
    “All but God can prove this sentence true.”

  34. natural cynic says

    Pullman WA
    Blacker than the darkest night at 3 PM. Handing out masks to frightened students.

  35. bumlet5 says

    I was about 9 months old, likely worried more about learning how to walk than a volcano.

  36. Celtic_Evolution says

    RBDC –

    I was 8 years old and probably in school cutting up and pissing off my teacher.

    You cut up your teacher, Rev?? Yeah, that would have pissed me off too… until I lost consciousness anyhow…

  37. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    Second grade class of Miss Lucas, St. Margaret Mary School, Staten Island*, New York. I thought that Mt. St. Helens was a different Catholic school, and was concerned that we, too, would explode.

    *Shaolin slums, yo. Can I get a woot?

  38. geoffmovies says

    I was 13 and just finishing grade school. High school was just around the horizon. I don`t remember finding out about it but I do remember that spectacular photo on the front page of the newspaper and images of people shovelling ash in the dark.

  39. mikmik says


    volcanos are fuck all 50 years ago

  40. Scyattle says

    I was 6 months old so I don’t remember it. But my parents had just finished repainting the house that they owned in a suburb of Seattle. So needless to say they were glued to the TV to know which way the ash cloud was headed.

  41. nigelTheBold says

    Nigelthebold@23, you lived in Cove? I spent some time in Elgin. Small world (and smaller towns – oy)

    Yep. For about a year. I spent my 8th-grade year there. A few years later, I went back to visit, and ended up meeting a woman from Summerville, whom I married.

    Then we divorced — it turns out I’m allergic to fundamentalists.

    Ah, the small towns of Union County.

  42. The Pint says

    I remember that when I learned about volcanoes in elementary school science class, Mt. St. Helens was front and center.

    Yep, same here. I was 2.5 when the eruption happened, and distinctly remember Mount St. Helen’s being the prime example of volcanic eruption when in either kindergarten or 1st grade we got to the “build your own volcano and make it erupt at home!” segment that all parents dread.

  43. ~Pharyngulette~ says

    I was 18, just about to get married and living with my much-older, undiagnosed-schizophrenic fiance in a 24-foot trailer in Central California. (Go ahead and chortle about that – I do. Now.)

    We had some friends who had gotten married and moved to Spokane the year before, so when we got married ourselves, a few weeks after the eruption, we travelled to visit them and we’re just stunned at how much ash was everywhere. They were still shovelling it off roofs and cars. In some places, it’d been dumped several inches thick.

    They had stories to tell about the blackening skies and a gentle fall of ash turning into a grey blizzard. Weird stuff.

  44. bloodtoes says

    I had just celebrated my first birthday. My family lived not far north from Mt. St. Helens and my grandparents were on their way home from a vacation, they were stuck in traffic and had to take an alternate route to get home. We have some great pictures in the family photo albums of it too.

  45. blf says

    Can’t really recall, but I was probably still at Caltech since the term (as far as I can now recall) wouldn’t have quite ended. Possibly studying for an exam or something.

    What I can remember, but not which year—1980 or 1981—was the then-governor of Washington State, a lady, was supposed to be the commencement speaker that year. I was peripherally involved in that year’s commencement day prank, which involved a mini-volcano erupting near the speaker’s podium as she was giving her address. (I had nothing to do with the actual mini-volcano, but with some other parts of the prank; the part I was involved with never happened due to the campus police rumbling that part of the plan (which wasn’t the planned diversion ;- ). I ended up being just a spectator.)

    Unfortunately, Mt St Helens erupted again a day or two before, and the governor decided she had to stay and do something (which probably translates into looking like she was doing something). So her address was delivered by someone else (can’t recall who, probably one of the senior faculty). The mini-volcano (which, as I recall, was detonated remotely (for reasons of safety)) did go off, and the substitute commencement speaker was sharp enough to work out what was happening and ad-libbed a suitable quip.

     †  The Puffft! of all Knowledge says it must have been Dixy Lee Ray in 1980. Dr Ray was a marine biologist.

  46. johnlil#0a224 says

    Thirty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper and I were teaching the band to play.
    Whether they’re currently in style I haven’t the foggiest.
    The sad thing is that some of you whippersnappers don’t know what I’m talking about.
    Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!

  47. R Rains, MD says

    Now I feel old.

    I was doing my Family Practice residency at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma. We were bicycle camping on San Juan Island that weekend and thought some ship offshore had fired off a sizable cannon. This was from a distance of about 170 miles. Since we were incommunicado, we didn’t figure it out until the we were driving home that evening.

    Tacoma got a little dust, but we were sure happy not to be on the east side of the mountains.


  48. Quatguy says

    I was 10 years old and remember lying awake in my bed (it was Sunday morning) in Victoria, B.C. Canada. I remember hearing a series of “booms” and my bedroom window rattling. My parents heard it as well and we thought it was gunnery practice for the upcoming May Day festivities. We found out later it was Mt. St. Helens. Many people in Victoria heard it. Mt. St. Helens is 260 km south of Victoria.

  49. Namus says

    I was barely 4 months old and laying on the ground somewhere. But 30 years ago, today, is when Ian Curtis died. His influence has been indescribable.

  50. Louis says

    I was serenading a beautiful Parisian river on the banks of a lady. We strolled hand in hand, had a restaurant in a little back street lunch where I knew the owner. Later that evening we retired to her place and made passionate love on a roaring fire in front of a bearskin rug.

    Or not as the case may be.

    I was five and definitely annoyinbg my teachers more than Rev BDC was annoying his! ;-)


  51. https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnd6yHzCFWKXdWZZ3WlFAHImwT1rl08tb8 says

    I was filling my diapers with poop.

    No, seriously. I hadn’t even turned one yet when Mount St. Helens blew its top.

  52. Brian says

    I was in 8th grade, growing up in Longview. Of course we didn’t get hit with the ash cloud on May 18th — that was several days later when the winds shifted. I can’t remember how long it was before they let us go outside without masks. And even after that the ash sort of caked up in the rain and stuck around in various wind-sheltered pockets all summer long. I remember drawing graffiti in the quarter-inch of ash that stuck to sidewalks in various places.

    My father shook hands with then-president Carter when he visited.

    The local TV station threw together an impromptu daily show (“Stir Crazy”) to distract us housebound kids. By the time they reopened the schools, it was so close to the end of the year that they made attendance optional.

    My mom lost her wedding ring at the bottom of Spirit Lake, a few years before 1980. (Maybe archaeologists will find it millennia hence.) I also remember Harry Truman from when our family rented a boat from him for a camping trip — on Bear Lake, maybe?

    The whole thing feels like it happened far more than 30 years ago, actually….

  53. Blondin says

    I was 24, working as an office equipment tech in Palmerston North, NZ. The IBM PC was not invented yet and every article of clothing I owned had Nashua photocopier toner stains on it.

  54. Dusty5150 says

    I remember it was a Saturday or Sunday morning (since we didn’t have school. I was in 7th grade and it was a beautiful day in Bellevue, WA, just east of Seattle across Lake Washington. The sound was just a big thump. It sounded like someone fell out of bed upstairs. my mom and I figured my older brother was upstairs up to some shenanigans.

  55. Larry says

    I visited St. Helens this past summer. Its one thing to view the devastation in pictures and videos but its a whole ‘nother thing seeing it live. From the scoured river bed where the melted glacier water flooded off the mountain to vast area in front of the mountain covered by the land slide, its still a pretty barren moonscape. The energy released in that event is truly mind-boggling and it serves a stark reminder life on earth is subject to the moods of Mother Nature.

  56. alistair.coleman says

    I was 14, with my best friend Ian Curtis, utterly gobsmacked to hear that the *other* Ian Curtis had just died.

  57. Gyeong Hwa Pak, Scholar of Shen Zhou says

    I kind of didn’t exist.

    Hooray for those of us who didn’t exist!

  58. timrowledge says

    Hmm, I was just about to start end-of-first-year exams for my first mech.eng. degree and trying to convince my current wife to marry me. Both turned out fairly well, all in all.

  59. Guy Incognito says

    Our Heavenly Father had, but a month prior, blessed my parents’ love for one another by imbuing a zygote with my precious little soul!

    Unfortunately, dad was still married.

    To my aunt.

    Stupid dysfunctional family…

  60. Haley says

    It would be 11 years, 3 months, and 20 days before I would be born. My mother was about to graduate from High School.

  61. Mattir says

    A sophomore in a Catholic women’s college. Don’t remember the eruption specifically, but Son Spawn was given a box of the ash a few years ago and I’ve had to restrain various kids from opening it and scattering it all over the house.

  62. george kraut says

    Well, I was a 24 year young reborn christian, living in Münster, Germany. I was studying theology, then, which I can only recommend to all true believers.
    I learnt so much about my religion that I could only choose between closing my eyes to reality or losing my belief.
    As I don’t like to deceive myself, well, here I am, free at last.
    That special day started my interest in geology.

  63. https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmWGWDNosQkvuoah0D80rBhZd7JdQJORwE says

    I was 20, had just moved to Centralia the week before. I remember waking up and looking out, Oh, it snowed last night…Wait!

    We had gotten our garden planted, but nothing had sprouted yet. We worried about the germination, but everything came up okay. The ash didn’t deter the slugs however, I saw their trails on top the dust the next day.

  64. Lilie says

    May 18 is my husband (and Bertrand Russel’s) birthday. He was 9 years old then. Happy birthday Jason.

  65. Carlie says

    I was 7. One of my friends had family in Washington and came back from summer vacation in the fall with a vial of ash that we all passed around like a sacred relic.

  66. Ulgaa Nator says

    I was 8 in Colorado having just moved from Yakima two weeks prior to the eruption.

  67. Rev. BigDumbChimp says

    You cut up your teacher, Rev?? Yeah, that would have pissed me off too… until I lost consciousness anyhow…

    You people know better than to question my mastery of the english language, especially grammar and spelling.

    me fail english? Unpossible

  68. jablair51 says

    My memory is a bit fuzzy for that time but I know that I had just gotten out of the hospital since I was only a week and half old.

  69. Akitagod says

    We lived just outside of Mt. Vernon, WA and had just walked out of church Sunday morning. Being in rural, wooded Washington, we just thought someone was blowing up stumps on their property (which was common). The ash all went south and west as many have mentioned, so I was a very disappointed 4th grader.

  70. daveau says

    I had dropped out of college for the 2nd time and was a struggling musician in Chicago.

    A H.S. friend of mine was hiking in the Mount St. Helens area at the time, and managed to have some of the first photos of the eruption, which he sold to UPI or AP or someone for a bit of money.

  71. chrstphrgthr says

    I was all over the place at that time, literally. Half of me was in my mothers ovaries and the other half existed as molecules spread around my father’s environment, which had to wait three years before being assimilated by my father and organized into the spermatozoon that met my other half in one of my mother’s fallopian tubes.

  72. rippingrich says

    I was in a 95 mile canoe race in 10 man voyager canoes. Doing what was known at our school as the Rockie Race. It started at the begging of the North Saskatchewan River near Rockie Mountain House and went to our school that was located beside the river near Edmonton. It was an Anglican boarding school that was really into smacking kids for, well, everything. It was training for a trip we took in June that was about 500 miles from Edson Alberta to lac La Biche.

  73. jidashdee says

    I was a teenager living in Sault Ste. Marie. I can recall the grey, depressing skies and the even colder and wetter than normal weather.

    Thanks for the craptastic summer ya stupid mountain!

    Maybe we could get the BP folks to safely drill it and relieve the pressure so it doesn’t happen again.

    What could go wrong? :)

  74. DaveP says

    I was in the Air Force stationed in Mt. Home, Idaho (misnomer: nearest mountains were a 2 hr drive away). Got a slight dusting of ash from it.

    Aaah Mt. Home, where my roommate and I would bait the fundies with drawings of pentagrams and offers to attend our beer bust and sacrifice. Only way we could get them to stop preaching at us.

  75. https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnwUDjsdeV8Vq5eVsXgg7ikzp7ZxAUwX4U says

    I was 11 in Woodinville, waiting to put on the dust mask they had bring from home. I remember my folks telling me it shook the windows of the house.

  76. Legion says

    We were in our second year of college and too busy chasing coeds to bother about some silly old volcano.

  77. Yunomi says

    Being a geology junkie, and living far, far away from Mt. St. Helens,(Austin, TX)I was trying to figure out how I could afford a trip to Washington. I never did, and to this day haven’t seen the blast zone.

  78. JSug says

    I was 5 (almost 6) years old, and my family and I lived on the outskirts of Lacey, WA. Our house had too many big trees around it, but my parents drove us to a nearby freeway overpass where we could watch the plume rising from the mountain. I remember it pretty clearly, and it was spectacular. For the following weeks, we got constant ash fallout and had to wear masks or bandannas over our faces when we went outside. It blanketed everything to several inches of depth. Somewhere I still have a jar of ash that I collected off our car or driveway. We have family in the Yakima area, and they got hit even worse by the ash, with drifts a couple feet deep in places.

  79. frisbeetarian says

    I had just escaped MN and was in a hurry to join friends in Seattle for a camping trip to the coast. I almost got stuck in Spokane but made it in time to go camping to the coast. I heard a story about a guy who was on a long solo hike in the mountains (weeks) and woke one morning thinking the bomb had been dropped. I was sleeping outside in northern Idaho when another ash cloud later dropped a 1/2 inch of ash on my Goretex bivy sack. The Goretex doesn’t breathe anymore with volcanic ash on it in case anyone was thinking of an experiment.

  80. Multicellular says

    I was 15 living in southern California so I just watched it on TV (when it came on the nightly news, of course, since we only had a few non-cable channels).

    About 15 years later I was hitching a ride on an Air Force C-141A out of Edwards and we flew over St. Helens. I got the co-pilot to snap few shots out his window with a camera that used this stuff called film….

  81. badgersdaughter says

    When I heard about the explosion, I was in the seventh grade in New Jersey, listening to public radio while sitting in my favorite armchair up in my room and crocheting an afghan out of fuzzy peach yarn. Avoiding homework, avoiding my brothers, avoiding my parents and my friends and my dog. Thinking of a poem I was writing to that geeky red-headed boy I had a serious crush on.

    I asked Daddy if we could go see the volcano erupt and he told me no.

  82. deriamis says

    Where were you, 30 years ago today?

    I was 24 days old and most likely cooing in my crib at the time. Interestingly, the plume of ash just missed passing over our house, as I was only about 50 miles away from the blast.

  83. Fred The Hun says

    New organisms colonize the virgin environment with dramatic success, only to burn themselves out or be checked by predators, parasites, or competitors. This was the second revelation of St. Helens: When there’s a blank slate, ecological succession is a cycle of boom and bust.

    Sounds an awful lot like what humans are doing themselves, in just about every single habit and corner of the globe. At 7 billion and still growing our numbers, it is only a matter of time before TSHTF and that same cycle has its full effect on our own numbers.

    Humans have turned into “OIL” eaters because our agriculture and our exploitative process of obtaining food from the land and the seas, all depend on oil, and that energy source is about to enter into inevitable decline.

    As someone I know likes to ask, “Are humans smarter than yeast?

  84. Sean O'Doherty says

    I was 15 and washing dishes at my part-time job. I remember thinking this might impact the hotel where I worked…got laid off a week later.

    You could see the plume from my house, very little ash fell where we lived.

  85. YetAnotherAtheist says

    I know where I was 28 years ago today… being born! I turn 28 today, on the same day of the anniversary of the Mt. St. Helen eruption. :D

  86. Nerd of Redhead, OM says

    I was in Dah YooPee, waiting for the snow to finish melting.

  87. cicely says

    I was 21, in western Oklahoma, a spiritually conflicted pre-atheist, contemplating suicide. Exploding volcanos was just ambience.

  88. johnlil#0a224 says

    I was getting my hemorrhoids removed. Jebus you guys are young. Yes, I’m jealous.

  89. Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus says

    Thirty years ago I was seventeen, I’d just started my first job, and was within weeks of joining with my girlfriend in the coordinated and simultaneous loss of our virginity.

    All I wanted at that stage in life was a car, a stereo and as much sex as humanly possible (not in that order). Mt St Helens was of passing interest given that New Zealand is volcanically active and possesses one of the globe’s more attractive super volcanos called Lake Taupo. But profoundly afflicted as I was by rampant hormones, my most intense eruptions were ejaculations, and my lava flows were all high-protein and white.

    Later, of course, I discovered Jesus and the joys of ovine-eroticism, but that’s a less interesting tale.

  90. https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawmzMTMpBH9z7r5KKNc2reRPsYYlEej9CYQ says

    I was just across the mountains from you in Sisters, OR. We could actually hear the eruption – the sound carried right down the Cascades.

    As a side note, I believe trout were planted in Spirit Lake, either by bucket biologists, or WDFG, rather than finding their way back naturally. Sadly, humans can be a bit impatient. Needless to say, there has been a clamor amongst the fishing community to open it up to angling.


  91. Walton says

    The eruption was more than nine years before I was born, so I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything very much. :-/

  92. AndrewTheEternal says

    My parents wouldn’t even meet for another seven years.
    Oddly enough, my Dad got his hands on a vial of the ash that got passed to me when I was born.

  93. Mandukhai says

    I was 8 and living in Spokane. I remember that it happened over the weekend, because we went to a 1pm movie and when we came out two hours later it was pitch black and snowing – except of course it was ash, not snow. We got several inches of ash which my siblings and I happily played in for the next two weeks. It made excellent mud pies. Of course we didn’t wear the masks at all – I’m expecting to feel that in my lungs someday.

    I saved some ash in film cans for a while, but since I’ve moved 46 times since then they’re long gone.

  94. Crudely Wrott says

    Where was I?

    Houston, Texas. Employed by US Steel to wind up miles-long cables as neatly as a spool of thread.*

    On the morning of the 20th I found the yard, the trees and my car dusted with ash. There were also enhanced color in sunrises and sunsets for a couple of days.

    I thought that was rather remarkable considering how far south the ash had traveled.

    *Thread laying, an ancient art. Something like when you coil up your garden hose in those windy-uppy plastic boxes only a bit more technical. In my case the “threads’ were as much as 30,000 feet long and spooled under tensions of up to ten tons.There are surprisingly few people who know how to do this and the process is not easily automated. So, if you ever have a few miles of cable strewn about underfoot and causing spills, just whistle!

  95. Smoggy Batzrubble OM4Jesus says

    Dear Brother Walton said,

    “I’m pretty sure I wasn’t doing anything very much”

    Au contraire. I prayed to Jesus who advised me that nine years before you were born you were incarnated as a pet duck-billed platypus owned by an Australian grandma named Sheila.

    You were a rather stupid platypus and did nothing of note except swim around in a murky pond in Sheila’s back garden until an 18-year-old animal activist and wannabee television star named Steve Irwin rescued you and released you into the wild.

    Freedom horrified you and you tried everything you could to return to your pond. You almost made it home, too, but at the last hurdle (Sheila’s driveway) you were crushed beneath the wheels of her reversing Morris Minor.

    Your next incarnation before your present one, was as a tapeworm in the stomach of a Belgian politician.

    Call on me if you need more detail.



  96. DominEditrix says

    I was in CT, putting our house on the market, as the ex and I were moving to CA, where he’d been working as a motion picture illustrator. My first thought was worry about a friend who lived in Portland – ash in the air, yuck.

  97. lijdare says

    I was an exploration geologist for Tenneco Oil in Oklahoma City; not much work got done that day. An acquaintance from my time at Texas A&M, James Fitzgerald, was studying the volcanic deposits in the area of Mt St Helens but outside of the exclusion zone. A married couple, the Johnsons, who I also knew from A&M were with him but had gone down the mountain the night before. They were returning up the ridge that morning when St Helens blew and had to turn around to avoid the blast. James took pictures of the eruption then evidently got in his car and covered over his camera when he saw the blast was coming in his direction. I think it was a week before they found his body. The Johnsons returned later and marked a spot near where he died with a memorial.

  98. lijdare says

    Ok… it was a Sunday, not much got done that monday though… I must have been playing volleyball.

  99. ceestar42 says

    I was 4 years old, and living in a house that looked straight at St Helens. I watched the event, calling out that “the mountain is angry!”

    I couldn’t see the northern lateral blast because I lived (and still do) in Portland, but the sight of that huge column of ash and the dark ashfall in the following days excited in me a wonder of geology.

  100. Haley says

    I think I’m winning the most nonexistent contest. (where most nonexistent is defined as the person who had the greatest negative age 30 years ago)

  101. cocker.splodie says

    I was a freshman in high school in Fort Worth. We followed the eruption in science class for days.

    Obviously I wasn’t subject to McLeroy and Dunbar.

  102. clare7 says

    Nearly ten, living in Bourbon Co. KY — noticing even then that the sun was ever so slightly dimmed by the ash.

  103. jackstraw says

    At 930 or so I was standing on the shore of Lake Tahoe, with my geomorphology professor. We were on day 3 of a 5 day field trip. We heard a rumbling sound.

    “Duck season?” I said.

    “Not with cannons” he replied.

    Our group finished packing and loaded up the bus and headed back into town. At the gas station a classmate came flying out of the office and said “Mount Saint Helens exploded this morning”.

    We cut the field trip short so that the two professors could then head on up to the Mt St Helens area.

    Part way home my prof and I looked at each other and wondered if we had heard the explosion. The distance and the time work out reasonably well, so that’s the story I’ve always gone with.

  104. A. Nuran says

    I’d arrived home in the Tri Cities for Spring break from boarding school. Woke up to hear an explosion. Turned on the radio and heard Mt. St. Helens had blown up. Watched the ash come towards and down onto us. Enjoyed it thoroughly.

  105. Asclepias says

    I was not quite two. Apparently I had a moment of interest in what was going on on the T.V. screen before toddling off to do more interesting things.

  106. JohnnieCanuck says

    It was 9am when the sound made it up to Vancouver, BC that Sunday. Like the apatheist I was, I was lying in bed. The best I could make of the whump sound was that a truck had run into a house nearby.

    The ash never made it up this way. About ’84 I drove down to see it. The lahar marks were still visible on the trees and I remember a car with all the paint burnt off and many dents in the hood and roof. There were only a few places in the ash deposit areas that had the odd plant.

    Go to http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/ to see a very good photo essay.

  107. david.utidjian says

    I was 22 years old and living on Alcatraz (the street) in Oakland CA. I called my mom in the UK to tell her I was OK and here response was, “So it takes an erupting volcano for you to call me?”

    I don’t remember any ash from the eruption reaching the Bay Area but I do remember the sky being a strange color.

    Drove past it on a trip to the Yukon Territory about five years later but it was dark then so I couldn’t see anything.

  108. Deluded Creodont says

    PZ, you were at the U of O? My mom was getting her graduates at the same time.

    I was at negative 14 months at the time.

  109. MonkeyBoy says

    At the initial May 1980 blast I was in graduate school on the east coast. During that August I did the ‘present papers at conferences’ tour – one was at Berkeley followed by one at Vancouver (UBC).

    I guess this was around the August 7 eruption because the pilot of my flight from SF to Seattle slightly diverted our flight path so he and all the passengers could get a good look at smoke spewing out and the destruction.

  110. Diane G. says

    I grew up in Oregon & got my BS at OSU, but was living in Boston when St. Helens erupted. >:-( My folks sent me various souvenirs, including a jar of ash they swept off their Portland patio…

    Loved the bumper sticker at the time: “Don’t come to Washington; Washington will come to you.”

  111. TimKO,,.,, says

    My sister lived in Yakima. She got freaking buried. Day became night. She still has jars of ash.

  112. boygenius says

    I was a month shy of my 10th birthday. My mom’s cousin was a potter and lived somewhere in the ash zone. She made a series of pieces that incorporated St. Helens ash into the clay. IIRC, she was inundated with orders from around the country and made quite a bit of money off of those pieces. Silver linings.

  113. Edo Bosnar says

    I was 12, living about 30 miles south of Portland, OR – May 18 was a beautiful sunny day and my brother and I climbed onto the roof of our barn to see the plume of smoke and ash way off in the distance. Then I remember the dark gray skies the rest of the week and the endless bucketfuls of ash everywhere…

  114. SteveV says

    I was 34 (and a LOT slimmer)living on a construction camp near Ras Tanura. Most of my work mates were from the USA, one of them had family in Tacoma. Telecoms were not good and he was quite worried for a time.

  115. JustALurker says

    WOW. Usually I feel really old around my generation, talking about kids and my life. However, this makes me feel so young and insignificant, makes me realize there’s so much more to life then what I’ve had.

    My mother was only 8 when this happened. My father was 13. I was born 10 years later and my daughter 17 years after that.

    Also, it reminds me I have to get things ready for my daughter’s third birthday on the 24th. Dang, there I go feeling old again. lol. =)

  116. onethird-man says

    Wait – Grad School + Eugene, OR…

    Does this mean you’re a U of O alum?
    You’re not a cephalopod after all…you’re a cephaloduck! (pronounced “kephaloduck” – it was my introduction to Latin pronunciation of scientific names)

    …and for the record I was moving from Colorado to Boston so my Air Force dad could eventually work on the nascent “‘Star Wars’ Defense Initiative.”

  117. 'Tis Himself, OM says

    The previous week I had successfully defended my master’s thesis at a well-known Boston area university. I don’t remember what I did that Sunday. If the weather was nice I probably went sailing but if it wasn’t than I probably stayed in my apartment reading.

  118. https://me.yahoo.com/a/.f0pdCU_sPYGNfdoCteoGxFo5vek#1e4ca says

    I had just graduated from Purdue’s school of mechanical engineering (in Indiana). Following the ceremony I jumped into my rusted-out Pinto to drive to Seattle where Boeing had a job waiting for me. I turned on the car radio to discover that a volcano had erupted and ash was blocking my path.

    It was one of the most exciting adventures of my life. Born and raised in corn country I had never seen anything bigger than an ant hill, let alone a volcano.

    I dropped into a parts store to stock up on some extra air filters and made it to my first day of work on schedule. Met and married my wife that same year.

  119. Janey Mack says

    I was sound asleep, as any self-respecting, 17-year-old proto-atheist should be early on a Sunday morning. I woke up with the impression of having heard a loud noise. The house was quiet; I looked out the window and there was nothing to be seen. I shrugged and went back to sleep.

    Later we heard that the mountain had erupted, and when I heard when it had been I realized that must have been what woke me up. I lived in Bend, in central Oregon–some 150+ miles away from the mountain!

    I had actually had a close encounter with Mt. St. Helens shortly before she went boom. I was taking a geology class that term. I don’t remember a lot of it, because it was a late afternoon class and we watched a lot of film strips (remember those?) and unfortunately when the class lights went out my lights tended to go out, too–I learned to sleep sitting straight up with my eyes open–but I do remember the field trip we took, to the edge of the red zone on the north side of the mountain. It was pretty cloudy so we didn’t see much–every now and then the clouds would clear and through binoculars we could see rocks falling down the obviously bulging side of the mountain. If she had erupted then, my high school would have been short some juniors and seniors!

    My next visit to the mountain was the summer of 1983, when my then-boyfriend and I went u and took advantage of the newly opened network of roads and trails that afforded a nearly 360 degree view of the mountain and the surrounding area. In contrast to glenister_m (#9), I was impressed even then by the way the landscape was beginning to recover, with small growing things springing up in rather unlikely places (of course, growing up in the volcanic country of central Oregon has given me an appreciation for how tenacious plants can be when they decide to get a root-hold somewhere). Of course nothing was very big, but they were there, in the middle of what was usually described as “a wasteland” or “a

    I haven’t been up there lately but it’s on the agenda for this summer.

  120. Bodach says

    I was a grown up, driving a bus in Seattle, sitting at the turnaround at Northgate. Actually heard the explosion and saw the weather change rather rapidly. Dispatcher came on the air later and told us what had happened.
    Kept an eye on Mt. Rainier for a while after wards, just in case…