Mount St. Helens: My Memories of the Eruption as a Kid in Washington
On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens Erupted
One of the earliest and most vivid memories of my life was living through the eruption of Mount St. Helens as a kid in Washington State. Do you remember what you were doing?
Remembering on the Anniversary of Mount St. Helens Eruption
There are a lot of things I do not remember about being a kid in Washington State, but I will never forget May 18, 1980. I was living in Spokane, I was almost 5 years old, and my only concern was that I had to go to Sunday church that morning. (That is how I always remember that St. Helens exploded on a Sunday.) We were actually driving back from church when my father spotted the dark clouds coming from the southwest. At the time we thought it would be a large thunderstorm, but we were obviously wrong.
My Family Opens Windows and Watches Thunderstorms
Growing up in the Spokane Valley, thunderstorms and lighting were normal, especially in the springtime. Every storm we saw, my family would open up the windows to the house and we would watch the light show. That morning on May 18, we rushed home and opened all the windows hoping to see an amazing thunder and lightning show. I remember sitting at the window watching the sky as white stuff suddenly started falling.
Ash Started Falling Like Heavy Snow
It was the weirdest experience to feel the warm air and see what I think is snow falling from the sky. I remember the clouds having this very dark and scary appearance and the sudden feeling that something was not right, even at 5 years old. I remember my Dad freaking out, yelling at us to get away from the windows, and running around the house shutting all the windows we had just opened.
The Drawing of a Volcano with Scrolling Instructions was on Every TV Channel
After my Dad freaked and closed all the windows, the first thing he did was turn on the TV. Remember that in 1980 there was no internet so the TV or the radio was your only options for information in an emergency. I had always seen EMS alerts before but this was my first time living through an event that used it. All TV channels showed a black-and-white drawing of a traditional cone volcano with smoke coming out of the top. There were instructions scrolling across the bottom although I was too young to understand or read it.
We Had Inches of Ash by the Next Morning
I remember it turning completely dark when the storm hit and the ash started falling from the sky. By the time I woke up the next morning, it looked like a warm winter wonderland. There were inches of ash all over the ground completely making our neighborhood white. I remember getting told not to go outside because breathing in the ash could hurt me. I also remember sneaking outside to play in it whenever I could anyway because it was fun (think Star Wars and Hoth and you see why). It was fun until I got caught and wasn't allowed outside anymore by my parents.
My 6th Grade Class Visited Mount St. Helens
My next interaction with Mount St. Helens didn't happen again until 6th grade when my class went to Cispus Camp near Randle, Washington. I thought Cispus Camp was something only my school did every year, but I have found lots of other people that grew up in the northwest that also went to Cispus in 6th grade. We hiked to the top of a mountain near the camp, painted on rocks, and all got on a bus and drove to the closest viewing site for Mount Saint Helens at the time. I was 11, so the trip was only 6 years after the eruption and what we saw was shocking.
As we approached the site, there was a sudden dead zone as we got closer. Everything in the dead zone had been flattened including huge trees that were splintered and lay flat like toothpicks. We found out later that the dead zone was where the Forrest Service was letting the area repair naturally without any human help. For the first time, I saw with my own eyes the destruction that I felt as a 5-year-old but never got to see. The mountain keeps changing over the years, but if you get the chance go visit Mount Saint Helens and see what the most active American volcano is really like.