Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mount St Helens -- May 18, 1980

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Mount St. Helens, 35 years ago, May 18, 1980, 8:32 AM.

Mount St. Helens, 35 years ago, May 18, 1980, 8:32 AM. 
This is it!
USGS’ Coldwater II observation post is 1300 feet above the North Fork Toutle River on South Coldwater Ridge, 5.5 miles north-northwest of Mount St. Helens. USGS scientist David Johnston had taken over from Harry Glicken on the evening of May 17. Before 7 AM, Johnston shoots three laser measurements to the bulge and radios the data to Vancouver. A ham operator records two transmissions by Johnston after 8:32.
Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!”
[Hiatus, probably less than a minute; the radio repeater clicks on.]
“Vancouver! Is the transmitter on?”
[Repeater clicks off.]
Columbian newspaper photographer Reid Blackburn controls two remote cameras from Coldwater I. He keeps a log. After an entry at 7:11 AM come these: 8:33 AM, 8:34 AM. The eruption is well underway when Blackburn punches off the cameras twice; then twice more. Unlike earlier entries, his handwriting is shaky, hurried, and no time to comment. He shuts the transmitter lid and snaps the latches—sealing in the notebook. He jumps into his Volvo and slams the door. The hot ash cloud smashes in its glass.
Neither Johnston nor Blackburn survive.

Mount St. Helens, 35 years ago, May 18, 1980, 8:30 AM. 
  Go faster!
  A Cessna nears the summit of Mount St. Helens. Bruce and Dorothy Stoffel are geologists for the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Department of Ecology; Bruce is piloting. They approached a serene crater, about a thousand feet up.
Unexpectantly, a mile-long east-west fracture pops open just north of the crater. The whole mass begins to vibrate, ripple, and churn. Huge east-west waves undulates like agitated jello. Ten seconds later, the great bulge sinks north—a gigantic mass detaching from the mountain. The steep scarp grows taller by the second. A second gigantic landslide glides on a second detachment plane; this slide takes the crater. A thousand feet below the airplane, the mile-wide face of the mountain is flowing, picking up speed. Below, a huge explosion blasts up out of the slip plane. They feel and hear nothing. Gray and frothy clouds billow beneath, blocking the view of Spirit Lake.
“We gotta get out of here!”
   Bruce opens the throttle and dives to gain speed. The cloud swells, chasing them. Dorothy pounds the front panel, urging them on, glancing behind and screaming to go faster. Bruce banks south, levels off.
   On the radio, Bruce tries to tell Seattle traffic control that the whole north side of the mountain just went, warning other aircraft. The response is nonchalance; they have dealt with many false alarms and think Bruce overexcited. How big, they ask. The response? It’s [expletive deleted] big! In another two minutes, the Stoffels outrun the clouds by heading south and land at the Portland Airport about 9:10 AM.
Image is an aerial view of Mount St. Helens' crater rim with eruptive column and ash cloud spreading over the pumice plain, May 18, 1980, 10:05 AM. USGS image by T. Casadevall.
 USGS Volcanoes
Mount St. Helens, 35 years ago, May 18, 1980, 7:30 AM.
  Just an hour before the horror.
  For the USGS, the morning meeting is almost mundane. The bulge still bulges, Don Swanson says. It’s announced that two armored vehicles will be sent to the observation post, one coming later in the day.
  If the geologists sense that an eruption draws near, the radio and meeting exude no urgency, just an hour before the horror. Nor do anyone’s field notes, the logbooks, or flight talk.
 USGS Volcanoes
Mount St. Helens, 35 years ago, May 18, 1980, 7:00 AM.
  Totally clear, no activity.
  USGS scientist Bob Christiansen is in Vancouver (WA). He radios Coldwater II. David Johnston has been up since 5:50 AM, making three laser measurements to Goat Rocks, tracking the movement of Mount St. Helens’ north flank.
  “What’s it like up there, Dave?”
  “Very nice, totally clear,” says Johnston. “You can see the mountain entirely.”
  At the Coldwater I observation post, Columbian newspaper photographer Reid Blackburn hits the transmitter and two remote cameras snap frames of Mount St. Helens, beautiful in the morning light. He jots in a notebook 7:11 AM, clear, no activity.  Loggers wake in the Hoffstadt quarry. Frying eggs on a camp stove, they give no thought to Mount St. Helens, hidden behind several ridges, talking instead of finishing the thinning of the last 10 acres. Ten miles southeast on Road 100 above Bear Meadow, Keith Ronnholm wakes and glances out his Toyota pickup—there is no summit steam this morning. Gary Rosenquist has been up all night at the fire, swapping stories with friends. Ronnholm screws a camera to a tripod, frames the volcano against a beautiful blue sky and punches the shutter.
  Later, seismologists will scour the seismic records from May 15 to 18 trying to find a scrap of information that could have foretold the event. There is none. The huge seismic buildup March 25, 1980 seems to be the wad of magma intruding into the volcano. That was the big event. In time, it caused all the others.

[This and other eyewitness accounts are from In the Path of Destruction, Eyewitness Chronicles of Mount St. Helens, by Richard Waitt, available at http://wsupress.wsu.edu/new-titles.html.]
More on Mount St. Helens at http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/volcanoes/st_helens/; images at http://volcanoes.usgs.gov/…/st_helens_multimedia_gallery.ht….
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Shelley [KF7TBA] and LW [K7LWA]'s Winsystem's Insomniac-Net for May 15, 2015

Questions = 2015[20]Q -- Ins-Net Qs for May 15, 2015_"Mount St. Helens: 1980 -- Part 2"
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