Has it been 40 years?

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    Yes. This coming Monday marks the 40th anniversary of the epic Mt. St. Helens eruption.

    I was a 20 year old living in Tacoma at the time (on a very short stint at KTAC). I remember everything in the sky looked purple that morning, which struck me as odd. A slight dusting on my windshield, but most of Western WA escaped a lot of ash.


    Jeffrey Kopp

    I was on Alaska Fisheries Patrol when the eruption occurred, but my ship was in Portland for the Rose Festival when the second ashfall happened.


    I was in Spokane at college with brother. It was his graduation day.

    As we entered the field house (sports arena) on campus where the ceremony was to take place, we saw in the west the changing skyline. It was ominous looking. During the ceremony we could see the ash falling. After the ceremony it was surreal walking around in the ash. We didn’t know initially how harmful that was for our lungs at the time. We all started wearing face masks.

    Best moment of the ceremony was when one our geology professors gave Mt.St. Helens an honorary degree saying, the Mountain had graduated – Magma Come Loudly.

    Spokane was a mess for weeks. Then the damn mountain erupted again…and more ash.


    Chris says “we all started wearing face masks”. Probably more important then than today but not to get this off topic.

    I do recall that the subsequent eruptions were significant but certainly lesser. I also recall driving into eastern Washington years later and still seeing ash deposits along side I-90 around Moses Lake and Ritzville well into the 80’s.


    Though much smaller, some of those ash deposits are still around, particularly in Ritzville.


    You can see the ash deposits on the side of 395 in spots between Pasco and Ritzville.

    I wasn’t here for the initial blast, as we were in Soda Springs, Idaho. I was here that summer though, and I will never forget those eruptions.


    Within a couple weeks or so of the eruption, I went on an impromptu driving trip up the west coast from California into Canada. On the return south I came down I-82. When I hit Yakima there was a thick coating of gray powdery dust everywhere. I remember the motel room outside windowsill having like 1/4″ of powder on it.

    Steve Naganuma

    Here is a very cool picture of Portland with the plume in the background. Notice there is no US Bank Tower building yet.

    View of Mt. St Helens erupting from Portland, Oregon, 1980.

    Andy Brown

    Nice pic, Steve.

    Steve Naganuma

    “Observe the 40th Anniversary of Mount St. Helens’ Eruption by Watching News Broadcasts From That Morning”



    I was on the air at what was then KMWX, AM 1460, in Yakima that Sunday morning when Mt. Shake and Bake blew up.

    It wasn’t long after 8:32 a.m. when the AP teletype stared going nuts. Our regular night jock called me and said he saw a television news flash that something had happened. I began giving bulletins on the air in-between songs right away, and called the Program Director. He said to call the News Director. She said to call her back if things got worse.

    It didn’t take me long to call her back. We kinda had a plan on what to do if Mt. St. Helens went off. Soon a whole bunch of us were in the building and not at home enjoying a Sunday off. We took turns giving out information on the air, but we still played those commercials and an occasional song between reporting.

    By 10 a.m. there was a huge cloud in the sky to the west-southwest that kept on getting bigger and darker. By noon Yakima was as dark as midnight. The streetlights came on, but weren’t that much help. Any car that drove by the station raised an incredible amount of dust and blotted out their light.

    We went to a simulcast with our usually-automated FM station, KFFM. That was good because around 2 p.m. our AM transmitter up on Ahtanum Ridge stopped working. Our Program Director and Engineer had to drive up there to clean out whatever air filters were there.

    The sun came back late in the afternoon. By then everything was covered in 3-4 inches of ash.

    I’ll give Art Fulton, our Program Director, credit for letting us weekend jocks remain behind the microphone that day. He could have brought in the weekday talent that had way more experience.

    My usual shift that day was 6 a.m. to noon. Then I would come back to the station at 11 p.m. to do the overnighter, which was babysitting the automated FM equipment, some production, and winding carts. That Sunday after I got off the air I stayed at the station and handled phones. I even got to give out some news actualities. Yes, my voice was in places like Spokane, Butte, and even Penticton, BC. I decided not to go home, but opted for a short nap in the second production room before my overnight shift. It turned out to be a 27 hour stint for me.

    Oddest part of the day? No one initiated an Emergency Broadcast System alert. From Governor Dixy Lee Ray on down nobody thought of it.

    Your Former Traffic Czar


    Can’t say I have any first-hand experience with the eruption(s) since I was born 4 years and a month* or so after the first one.

    (* It was a rainy cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.)

    But, my uncle and I were replacing the siding on mother’s old house in Orchards ~15 years ago. When we pulled the old T111 away all this whitish powder started falling out of the wall. Turned out it was St. Helens ash that had been trapped in the wall for 2 1/2 decades prior, and there was a shit-ton of it on the house’s north side! That part of Clark County (not terribly far from Heritage Federal Correc…um, High School) wasn’t nearly as over-developed as it is today, so they got hammered.

    There was this nice whitish-gray outline of the house in the dirt for a few weeks until he put new bark chips down.


    Here is the KOMO-TV (ABC) Seattle coverage. Not important at the time but note the cool KOMO living room set of the era! The anchor was Bob Thornsden. Also some classic Dixie Lee Ray. She was one of a kind.


    • This reply was modified 1 year, 6 months ago by paulwalker.
    Dan Packard

    Yes, the news coverage was great then. Here’s the KOIN 6 coverage from that day (from YouTube),

    I was visiting Seattle the morning of the eruption. After hearing the news accounts get grimmer, I decided I should high-tail it back to KLOG in Kelso where I was working at the time. Driving on I-5 a little ways south of Chehalis, two Washington state patrol cars came whizzing past to close I-5 at the Toutle river bridge because of so much debris.

    I didn’t realize this until i was almost there, amid a sea of stopped cars. I was able to turn around on the freeway, get off, and navigate side roads back to Kelso.

    By the time I got to KLOG, owner Steve Hanson was on the air taking calls from listeners. People were stuck in some spots because of the rising rivers and needed to know what was happening.

    We kept the daytime transmitter power on all night. It was hands on deck as everybody pitched in to gather news, take calls and become a critical link for people living in the area.

    I remember later that night, walking over to the Cowlitz river and seeing an eerie rush of logs, trees, houses, cars, refrigerators — all kinds of muddy debris, rushing down the river. And clouds of steam hovering above.

    It was incredible!


    For what it’s worth, which isn’t much, I was interviewed, about the eruption, on KASY, now on 1210.

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