Monday, May 18, was the 40th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption and The Wenatchee World's report looking back at the 1980 event triggered memories in dozens of readers.
Here's a lightly edited collection of comments posted on
The World's Facebook page, in emails and on NABUR, our new online discussion forum. (You can join the NABUR conversation by going to wwrld.us/NABUR.)
Ron B.: I lived in Burbank Heights, a community near the snake river and Pasco, Washington. My wife Kathy and I were working in the yard and did not have a radio or TV on all day. The sky began to turn dark and we assumed we were in for a terrible storm. The sun was almost completely blocked out and we knew something other than a storm was the cause. We tuned in to a local radio station and listened to the commentary about the eruption. We had previously lived in Kelso, Washington near the Cowlitz river and when the news came in that the Cowlitz was flooding and blocked with debris we knew exactly what that might look like. We traveled to Ephrata in the next week and turned around in fear that the ash might damage our car (it would have). I called my brother in Wenatchee who owned an Auto Parts store and he was working day and night to buy air filters for just about everything that had an engine. Weird times but not any weirder than a pandemic.
Chuck L: Lou & I were fishing on Fish Lake, by Lake Wenatchee w/son Cory & his buddy Eric. We heard that blast & thought it might be timber harvest or construction. As we drove back into town around noon, the ash was covering the valley starting in Dryden area. It was then we turned the radio on & heard the news. Very scary time.
Daniel J.:I had just graduated college in Missouri and started a cross-country journey to NCW on my Honda 550 motorcycle. I was due there to work the summer, again, for my uncles on their wheat and alfalfa farms. I left Missouri the week before the mountain blew and arrived at my grandmother's in Withrow that Friday, albeit with a very sore butt. Sunday morning found me in Palisades having breakfast at my aunt & uncle's house when we heard what seemed an odd, drawn-out sonic boom. We later left for church and, either upon arriving at church or leaving church, we noticed an unusual cloud front moving in from the southwest. We didn't know the mountain had exploded but we found out soon enough, and before long a planned family get-together convened in Wenatchee as the ash began to fall. I was glad I had not left Missouri two days later than I did.
Tina C.: My husband & I were living in Lake Stevens at the time. He was in the National Guard and had been told that if the Mt. blew he would be called out. I was on my way to work when I felt what I thought was a earthquake. I turned the radio on and heard that Mount St. Helens had erupted. Since this was before cells phone I pulled over to a gas station and called hubby and told him he better start packing. Sure enough within a half hour he got the call to deploy for duty. He, and many other Guardsmen, received a medal from the Governor for what they did during the eruption and helping with the devastation afterwards.
John B. I was mowing my yard on Mission St on a nice day... it started to get dark and I thought it was going to rain... but instead, dry gritty stuff started to come down!
Carl B.: We were sleeping in on Sunday morning and felt a thump in the house and ran into our six year old daughter's bedroom to see if she had fallen out of bed. Later, we went to Kmart, which was in the store being turned into a Winco, to buy tomato plants. We had just moved to Wenatchee a month before and were a little late getting a garden going. Looking toward Jumpoff I remarked "I think that's a weird looking storm cloud," as I had just moved here from back East and was not familiar with weather in the West. I was a Wenatchee Lettercarrier and had to deliver Special Delivery mail (Remember Special Delivery?) that afternoon. Not a mask to be found in any store (Remember Ernst?) It got spooky because the streets had become empty.
Patricia V.: I was in church. Driving home I thought it was snowing because of the drifting ash. Crossing the bridge I could see the huge cloud coming over the hill toward the east. I was not sure what was causing it until I arrived home and turned on the news. We were able to scoop up ashes from the street to fill up glass bottles which we've kept for posterity . I remember the anxiety over whether cars would be ruined from driving through the ash. We were not affected personally, but relatives in Moses Lake had a job shoveling the ash from their roofs. They had a hard time getting RID if it, since it certainly didn't melt like snow! You can still see parts of the dumped ash along the edge of the highway.
Shannon D.: My family moved to Wenatchee from Buffalo, NY in November of 1979. We had friends in town from back east and decided to spend the afternoon at Ohme Gardens. I can remember standing at one of the lookouts at the gardens when we all noticed what appeared to be a very dark storm cloud moving in quickly. We made haste to the parking lot where we all piled into our old GMC pickup truck and headed for home on Mission St. My mother and I were riding in the open bed of the pickup when the ash started to rain down. I said, "Look Mommy! It's snowing!" She said, "It's May!" We spent the next few days sweeping ash from the front steps of our house into small jars to ship back east to our friends and family.
My ex husband told me of his experience which sure was more exciting than mine. He was 7 or 8 and he was fishing in a little row boat on Moses Lake with his dad when the ash cloud moved in. He recalled that the day turned to night in a matter of minutes and that there was so much static in the ash cloud that it created ball lightening. He remembers being frightened and thinking that Armageddon was upon him.They rowed like they never rowed before to make it to shore. They got stranded in Moses Lake for a few days. His father was a long time reporter for the Wenatchee world. They were finally able to come home by being smuggled back to Wenatchee in a newspaper truck.
Rose B.: I was in Wenatchee and actually heard the explosion although I didn’t realize what it was until later. I thought it was an odd sounding sonic boom. Doing gardening a while later, I saw an ominous looking dark cloud rising. Thinking it was a storm approaching, I put away my tools, went inside. Not long after, this ash began to fall and realizing what it was, turned on TV and got confirmation. The rest, as they say, was history. Being my dad’s birthday, I phoned him out of state and told him “Washington had a big blowout” for his birthday.
Terry C.: I was a home alone, in Moses Lake, with an 8 month old daughter. Luckily we had plenty of supplies and helpful neighbors. My husband was in Omak visiting his older children, so he was stranded there until the middle of the week. It was very strange having it get dark in the middle of the day. I still have a jar of ash I have saved all these years, as a remembrance.
Chris L.: I remember it well.It was the only reason I graduated high school! I hated english and did not think much of the teacher. (I had a strong D minus going.) She informed me that I would never pass the final and I agreed. So the massive cloud came that Sunday morning and low and behold they shut the school down before we took final exams. The Superintendent of Public Instruction directed that seniors did not have to take finals and graduate if their current grade was passing! I wore my cap and grown proudly and gave the teacher a wink as my name was called!
David A.: I was at our NCW Council Boy Scouts' Spring Camp by Lily Lake (Wenatchee Heights area). Hearing the blast was something that reminded me of AppleYard train explosion year's earlier. Fortunately, a Scout Leader had a radio on and we were informed of the eruption in plenty of time to break camp and get home. Later that day, in Wenatchee, I remember the grey sky and the ash that fell as we watched the news coverage on TV.
Kathy H.: A group of friends had hiked up to Lake Domke to go camping. We were packing up to hike down to Lake Chelan and our boat when she blew and we heard a huge explosion. Someone jokingly said Mt Saint Helens blew. On our way down, ash started falling, the sky darkened, and when we got to our boat to head down lake we heard on a radio she did blow! Lots of ash on boat and then driving back to Wenatchee was eerie as thick ash started piling up and the sky was so dark. Everyone was very quiet as we contemplated the repercussions.
Terri S.: It was the day before my 19th birthday and I was four months pregnant, we were getting ready to go to the races in East Wenatchee at Wenatchee Valley Raceway to watch my dad race (# 56 ) We went outside and if you looked towards Quincy the sky was black and then we noticed little black/gray specks all over the cars and pretty soon the daylight disappeared the ground was covered in ash we were all bummed because the races were canceled.
Shelley G.: I was living in Moses Lake. When we came out of church the sky was getting dark. It was eerie to see the darkness descend. We had so much ash. We all had to get new air filters in our cars. At first they weren't sure if the ash was a health hazard. It was a scary time.
Duane W.: I was living in Yakima at the time. After the eruption, we could see a cloud of ash moving toward us. Shortly thereafter ash was falling throughout the city, covering
houses, cars, lawns, etc. It was a mess for weeks to come.
Here are some of your comments on The World's Facebook page and in emails after last weekend's report:
Joanne R.: It was my 24th birthday on that day. Coming home from Sunnyside and everything went black we had no idea what had happened. Made it to Vantage and stayed at the restaurant with alot of people who were stranded. Long story took us 2 days to get home. Will never forget that Birthday!!
Renae L.: I will never forget this time. We had an interest in a camper park outside of Moses Lake and the wonderful farmers came in and scooped all the ash out of the grass and parking lot. Wonderful community!
Barb H.: When we heard that it had erupted, we thought it would be like the previous ones, just a big plume and since it was a Sunday, we thought we'd try to see it from Goldendale. We weren't hearing much news about how bad it was, yet. About Crescent Bar there were some really weird looking clouds & we saw some lightning bolts which looked like they went from the river UP to the clouds. By the time we got to White Trail Road, the sky was all black with the brightest red glow all along the horizon to the south & east. When the ash began to fall, we decided we had better go home! The drive home was pretty scary with ash falling hard, like snow, but we got home OK. Every May 18 we laugh about how crazy we were & whenever another disaster happens, we say - Hey, we should go see that! Of course, we are a little bit wiser now & wait to read about it in the paper.
Linda S.: I remember. We were visiting friends in Everett. We lived in Wilson Creek at the time. We had to wait 2 days to get to Wenatchee. We stayed with my mom and dad for another 2 days before the roads opened for use the drive back home. My hubby dropped me of in Soap Lake, I worked McKay Hospital at the time. I stayed and worked there for 3 days. I would work a shift and sleep a shift alternating. Scott went back to Wilson Creek and helped the community clean the ash off, streets, sidewalks and buildings. My neighbor, Viola L., had her first child, Kirk on May 18th. That was a May to remember.
McKenna C.: My son was born on the 37th anniversary of it. He’ll be 3 on Monday. He kind of rushed into our lives like an eruption, so it’s fitting.
Lindee J.: My husband was stationed at Fairchild AFB, as a firefighter. He said he worked without much sleep for 3 days clearing off the flight line. He said they had so much ash. It was eerie.
Mickey C.: I was living in Jamestown, ND, over 1,000 miles away, at the time it erupted. We had ash on car windows and everything else. We were urged to change out our car air cleaners.
Cory J.: The eruption woke me up that morning, sounded like a sonic boom. After church went golfing with friends at 3 Lakes. Remember playing in the ash as it fell like a light snow on the course.
Dawn P. It was on my bday so I was sleeping in..Woke up to darkness & ash everywhere.
Josephine W.: I remember waking up that Sunday morning to the doors of our family's house rattling in an odd way. Will never forget it.
Steve C.: We had to drive home from Pullman on Hwy 26. It was about 4” deep, most of the way.
Tania M.: I remember this we lived on red apple road mom put out jars to catch the ashes
Maria H.: Lived in Spokane at the time. Can’t believe it’s been 40 years. Drove to Riverfront Park to get my cousins who were there and on the way back, day turned into night. We barely made it home. Ash everywhere for months!
Sue D.: I lived in Wenatchee when this happened & very much remember all the ash, it was everywhere. My Dad lived in Vancouver & managed to get some good video footage of the explosion.
Ann S: I was in Wenatchee...we came out of church service and thought it was rain clouds.
Martha F: Remember the darkness and all the ash
Dwaine S.: Forty years ago masks were also a fashion statement. Wore one then. Will wear one now.
Rosalee P.: Underwood I remember well I had my windows open at home and was not there to close them, big mess
John VanderSchalie, Wenatchee: In 1980, I was preparing to run my first marathon, scheduled for May 24th at Coeur d'Alene. We were living in Clarkston, WA, and although Clarkston had considerable ash, the heavier plume was north of us. We soon got word that the Coeur d'Alene Marathon was cancelled for safety reasons. Several from our valley were registered, all trained up, and wondering what we could do. Three weeks later, we found a marathon scheduled in Helena, Montana. I continued to train from work in Pullman, running with a mask, having sore chest muscles from pulling air through a mask. Arriving in Helena, we were surprised to see ash even there, 486 miles from the volcano! After that, I ran 14 marathons, including Boston, but the volcano marathon cancellation is a returning vivid memory each year at this time! We later received the T-shirt we had paid for with red letters stenciled across the logo, which I framed!