Mount St. Helens erupted 41 years ago today | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Mount St. Helens erupted 41 years ago today

A steam plume escapes from Mount St. Helens in this photo taken two years after the initial eruption in May, 1980.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
May 18, 2021 - 6:00 AM

If you lived in southern British Columbia on this date in 1980, you'll probably remember where you were when Mount St. Helens erupted in Oregon, Washington.

Okanagan historian Randy Manuel was living in the valley and still recalls the day. He was living on a small farm near Glenfir, north of Naramata at the time.

“I went out in the morning, and everything smelled like rotten eggs. None of the birds were tweeting and it was absolutely dead quiet. I couldn’t figure out what was going on,” Manuel recalls.

He went back into the house to tell his wife, Jean, something was wrong.

“I said, ‘it doesn’t smell like a forest fire, but it’s all foggy, and it’s a yellow fog. Something’s wrong. Turn on the radio, maybe World War III has started - and there’s dust all over everything,’” Manuel recalls saying.

They learned then the volcano had blown.

“It was actually a bit of a relief to hear that, in a way. I can remember you could write your name in the dust that was all over everything,” he says.

He said at the 2,700 foot elevation of Glenfir, they tended to get more snow, cloud and ‘fallout’ in general.

“It was probably denser at that altitude than it was lower down in the valley,” he says.

Manuel’s recollections echo those of many others across the province, from Vancouver Island to the East Kootenays, who woke up that Sunday morning to what seemed to be some very peculiar weather.

According to the United States Geological Survey, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake preceded the blast on Mount St. Helens around 8:32 a.m. May 18, 1980.

The resulting eruption lasted nine hours and killed 57 people in the vicinity of the blast.

More than 520 million tons of ash blew eastward across the United States, causing complete darkness in Spokane, Washington. Ash fell throughout southern British Columbia, and the ash cloud circled the Earth in 15 days.

The USGS says Mount St. Helens is the Cascades volcano most likely to erupt again in our lifetimes, but the timing and magnitude of the next eruption cannot be forecast years in advance. Continued monitoring of the volcano will provide short term forecasts on the mountain's future activity.

What do you remember about May 18, 1980? Let us know in the comments below.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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