The Book. The Mountain. Everything in between.

An eruption reminder

It was 32 years ago today (May 18)  that Mount St. Helens blew its top in the most destructive volcanic eruption in the recorded history of the United States. Fifty-seven people were killed, hundreds of homes, bridges, miles of highway, and more were obliterated, and the landscape of the region was forever changed.

St. Helens erupting on May 18, 1980. Image accessed through Wikimedia Commons.

This day is always a good one to remember. Not just because it’s the birthday of one of my very best friends, but because it serves as a good reminder of just what these mountains here in the Pacific Northwest might be capable of. According to a 2010 USGS top ten list of the most dangerous volcanoes in the U.S. based on size and potential damage of an eruption, seven of the them are Cascade Peaks. In order on the list: St. Helens (2), Rainier (3), Mount Hood (4), Shasta (5), South Sister (6), Lassen Peak (7), and Crater Lake (10).

According to the geologists that I talked to for my book, there’s a good chance that we won’t see Mount Hood erupt in our lifetime. It’s been a while since it’s erupted — about 230 years — and even though there are constant rumblings deep underneath the mountain and active fumaroles up higher, there don’t seem to be any major signs that the mountain is coming back to life anytime soon. That said, it doesn’t mean that people haven’t planned for the possibility of an eruption or that the door isn’t always open for the possibility. With volcanoes, it has to be.

“Until the volcano chooses to give us some indication that unrest is beginning, things motor on and are just fine,” said Cynthia Gardner, a geologist at the Cascades Volcano Observatory, who I interviewed for the book. “And then one day they aren’t fine anymore.”

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