11 Explosive Facts About Mount St. Helens

A column of ash and volcanic gas erupts from Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.
A column of ash and volcanic gas erupts from Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.
Robert Krimmel, USGS // Public Domain

When a strong earthquake triggered Mount St. Helens’s colossal volcanic explosion on May 18, 1980, the blast obliterated every object within a six-mile radius. It remains the United States’s most powerful, and the world’s fifth most destructive, volcanic event in recent history. Here are more facts to mark the 40th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption. 

1. Mount St. Helens is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Mount St. Helens is part of the chain of 160 active volcanoes around the Pacific Rim known as the Ring of Fire. It sits on top of the subduction zone where the oceanic Juan de Fuca tectonic plate slips under the North American plate. It’s a stratovolcano, also known as a composite volcano: a steep-sided volcano with a cone made up of layers of lava, ash, and debris. Stratovolcanoes are considered more dangerous than shield volcanoes, which are created by slow lava flows and feature more gentle slopes. (The Hawaiian islands are a chain of shield volcanoes.) Stratovolcanoes tend to erupt explosively, and their steep sides are prone to landslides, avalanches, and sometimes even collapse.

2. Mount St. Helens was named for a British diplomat.

Mount St. Helens as it appeared before the May 18, 1980 eruption.Rick Hoblitt, USGS // Public Domain

Mount St. Helens isn’t named after a saint—it was named by George Vancouver, the British naval explorer who charted the Pacific Northwest in the 1790s, for his friend, Baron St Helens. The baron, whose given name was Alleyne Fitzherbert, served as a diplomat for the British government in Brussels, Paris, Russia, Spain, and elsewhere. Among some of the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, the volcano is known as Louwala-Clough (Smoking Mountain), Lawetlat’la (Smoker), and Nsh' Ak'w (Water Coming Out).

3. Mount St. Helens has been erupting for a long, long time.

Mount St. Helens has gone through a number of eruptive stages over its lifetime, beginning 275,000 years ago. That’s relatively young for a volcano—a number of volcanoes formed by the Hawaiian hot spot are tens of millions of years old. However, volcanoes change drastically over their lifetimes: Most of the modern Mount St. Helens cone that is visible now formed during the last 3000 years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

4. Mount St. Helens is the most active volcano in the Cascade Range.

Mount Baker, Mount Shasta, Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Glacier Peak, and Lassen Peak are also active volcanoes in the Cascades, but the most recent activity among them was at Lassen Peak in the early 1900s. Mount St. Helens is the youngest among the Cascade volcanoes, too, which is why it shows fewer signs of erosion than neighbors like Mount Rainier or Mount Hood.

5. The cataclysmic 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens was the volcano’s first major eruption in more than 100 years.

Mount St. Helens erupts on May 18, 1980.Robert Krimmel, USGS // Public Domain

Prior to 1980, the last major explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens on record occurred in 1800. There were several minor explosions throughout the early 19th century up until 1857, when the volcano became dormant once again. This period of volcanic activity created what became known as the Goat Rocks Dome, which was part of Mount St. Helens’s distinctive silhouette until it was destroyed in the 1980 eruption.

6. The 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption is still the most powerful volcanic eruption in U.S. history.

On the morning of May 18, 1980, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake caused a massive landslide—the largest debris avalanche in history—on the north face of Mount St. Helens. In the volcanic eruption that followed, the lateral blast destroyed every living and non-living thing within six miles of the volcano. The deadly pyroclastic surge—a fast-moving, super-hot cloud of ash, rock, and volcanic gas—traveled as much 18 miles away from the blast. The hot lava, gas, and debris mixed with melting snow and ice to form massive volcanic mudflows that surged down into valleys with enough force to rip trees from the ground, flatten homes, and completely destroy roads and bridges. Rivers rose rapidly, flooding surrounding valleys. Ash fell from the sky as far away as the Great Plains. Two-hundred-and-fifty miles away, ash blanketed Spokane, Washington, in complete darkness.

7. A Mount St. Helens volcanologist likely saved hundreds of lives.

Fifty-seven people died as a result of the eruption, though the number could have been much higher. Volcanologist David Johnston was an advocate for restricting access to the volcano when, in early 1980, an increase in seismic activity signaled that an eruption might be imminent. Johnston died when the observation post from which he was monitoring Mount St. Helens was destroyed. “The volcano-monitoring effort of which Dave was part helped persuade the authorities first to limit access to the area around the volcano, and then to resist heavy pressure to reopen it, thereby holding the May 18 death toll to a few tens instead of hundreds or thousands,” according to the authors of the 1982 U.S. Geological Survey professional paper about the disaster.

8. The eruption changed the appearance of Mount St. Helens forever.

Prior to the 1980 eruption, Mount St. Helens had a symmetrical, snow-covered cone that gave it the nickname the “Mount Fuji of America.” The peak stood 9677 feet tall. But the lateral blast changed its appearance considerably: The top 1300 feet of the summit was destroyed by the eruption and landslide. Now, the volcano sports a north-facing, horseshoe-shaped crater that contains a lava dome and a glacier.

9. Mount St. Helens was made into a national volcanic monument in 1982.

Ash from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens covers the ground at a farm located 180 miles from the volcano.Lyn Topinka, USGS // Public Domain

Two years after the devastating eruption, Congress turned the area around Mount St. Helens into a 110,000-acre national volcanic monument for research and recreation. Located within the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, it’s managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Visitors can hike, camp, fish, and more, though hikers need a special permit to climb up to the summit. (This isn't permitted when the volcano is experiencingunusually high activity, of course.) They can also tour the Johnston Ridge volcanic observatory and Ape Cave, a lava tube formed almost 2000 years ago.

10. Mount St. Helens has been shrinking.

A 1982 survey measured the summit of the volcano at 8365 feet tall. As of 2009, it measured 8330 feet. The shrinkage is probably the result of erosion and collapses of crater walls.

11. Mount St. Helens is not done erupting.

The U.S. Geological Survey still rates Mount St. Helens’s threat potential as “very high” because of the potential for eruptions and the number of nearby communities that those eruptions could impact. The volcano is just over 50 miles from Portland, Oregon, and less than 100 miles from Seattle. The 1980 eruption destroyed all structures around the nearby tourist destination of Spirit Lake, including more than 200 houses and cabins. Mount St. Helens’s most recent volcanic activity stretched from 2004 to 2008, during which the volcano grew a new lava dome and periodically released plumes of steam and ash. There were few significant explosions before the volcanic activity died down in 2008.

While the U.S. Geological survey warns that Mount St. Helens will likely explode again during our lifetimes, the agency predicts that an explosion of the magnitude of the 1980 eruption is unlikely. However, scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network carefully monitor seismic data, gas emissions, changes in the ground surface, and other factors around Mount St. Helens to forecast potential volcanic activity.

14 Retro Gifts for Millennials

Ravi Palwe, Unsplash
Ravi Palwe, Unsplash

Millennials were born between 1981 and 1996, which means the pop culture they grew up with is officially retro. No matter what generation you belong to, consider these gifts when shopping for the Millennials in your life this holiday season.

1. Reptar Funko Pop!; $29

Amazon

This vinyl Reptar figurine from Funko is as cool as anything you’d find in the rugrats’ toy box. The monster dinosaur has been redesigned in classic Pop! style, making it a perfect desk or shelf accessory for the grown-up Nickelodeon fan. It also glows in the dark, which should appeal to anyone’s inner child.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Dragon Ball Z Slippers; $20

Hot Topic

You don’t need to change out of your pajamas to feel like a Super Saiyan. These slippers are emblazoned with the same kanji Goku wears on his gi in Dragon Ball Z: one for training under King Kai and one for training with Master Roshi. And with a soft sherpa lining, the footwear feels as good as it looks.

Buy it: Hot Topic

3. The Pokémon Cookbook; $15

Hop Topic

What do you eat after a long day of training and catching Pokémon? Any dish in The Pokémon Cookbook is a great option. This book features more than 35 recipes inspired by creatures from the Pokémon franchise, including Poké Ball sushi rolls and mashed Meowth potatoes.

Buy it: Hot Topic

4. Lisa Frank Activity Book; $5

Urban Outfitters

Millennials will never be too old for Lisa Frank, especially when the artist’s playful designs come in a relaxing activity book. Watercolor brings the rainbow characters in this collection to life. Just gather some painting supplies and put on a podcast for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled afternoon.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

5. Shoebox Tape Recorder with USB; $28

Amazon

The days of recording mix tapes don’t have to be over. This device looks and functions just like tape recorders from the pre-smartphone era. And with a USB port as well as a line-in jack and built-in mic, users can easily import their digital music collection onto retro cassette tapes.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Days of the Week Scrunchie Set; $12

Urban Outfitters

Millennials can be upset that a trend from their youth is old enough to be cool again, or they can embrace it. This scrunchie set is for anyone happy to see the return of the hair accessory. The soft knit ponytail holders come in a set of five—one for each day of the school (or work) week.

Buy it: Urban Outfitters

7. D&D Graphic T-shirt; $38-$48

80s Tees

The perfect gift for the Dungeon Master in your life, this graphic tee is modeled after the cover of the classic Dungeons & Dragons rule book. It’s available in sizes small through 3XL.

Buy it: 80s Tees

8. Chuck E. Cheese T-shirt; $36-$58

80s Tees

Few Millennials survived childhood without experiencing at least one birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese. This retro T-shirt sports the brand’s original name: Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre. It may be the next-best gift for a Chuck E. Cheese fan behind a decommissioned animatronic.

Buy it: 80s Tees

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas Picnic Blanket Bag; $40

Shop Disney

Fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas will recognize the iconic scene on the front of this messenger bag. Unfold it and the bag becomes a blanket fit for a moonlit picnic among the pumpkins. The bottom side is waterproof and the top layer is made of soft fleece.

Buy it: Shop Disney

10. Toy Story Alien Socks; $15

Shop Disney

You don’t need to be skilled at the claw machine to take home a pair of these socks. Decorated with the aliens from Toy Story, they’re made from soft-knit fabric and are big enough to fit adult feet.

Buy it: Shop Disney

11. Goosebumps Board Game; $24

Amazon

Fans that read every book in R.L. Stine’s series growing up can now play the Goosebumps board game. In this game, based on the Goosebumps movie, players take on the role of their favorite monster from the series and race to the typewriter at the end of the trail of manuscripts.

Buy it: Amazon

12. Tamagotchi Mini; $19

Amazon

If you know someone who killed their Tamagotchi in the '90s, give them another chance to show off their digital pet-care skills. This Tamagotchi is a smaller, simplified version of the original game. It doubles as a keychain, so owners have no excuse to forget to feed their pet.

Buy it: Amazon

13. SNES Classic; $275

Amazon

The SNES Classic is much easier to find now than when it first came out, and it's still just as entertaining for retro video game fans. This mini console comes preloaded with 21 Nintendo games, including Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II.

Buy it: Amazon

14. Planters Cheez Balls; $24

Amazon

Planters revived its Cheez Balls in 2018 after pulling them from shelves nearly a decade earlier. To Millennials unaware of that fact, this gift could be their dream come true. The throwback snack even comes in the classic canister fans remember.

Buy it: Amazon

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Late MythBusters Star Grant Imahara Honored With New STEAM Foundation

Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Grant Imahara attends San Diego Comic-Con
Genevieve via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Fans of MythBusters and White Rabbit Project host Grant Imahara were saddened to hear of his passing due to a brain aneurysm in July 2020 at the age of 49. Imahara, a graduate of the University of Southern California, used the television medium to share his love of science and engineering. Now, his passion for education will continue via an educational foundation developed in his name.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation was announced Thursday, October 23, 2020 by family and friends on what would have been Imahara’s 50th birthday. The Foundation will provide mentorships, grants, and scholarships that will allow students from diverse backgrounds access to STEAM education, which places an emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. (Formerly referred to as STEM, the “A” for art was added more recently.)

Imahara had a history of aiding students. While working at Industrial Light and Magic in the early 2000s, he mentored the robotics team at Richmond High School to prepare for the international FIRST Robotics Competition. Whether he was working on television or behind-the-scenes on movies like the Star Wars prequels and The Matrix sequels, Imahara always found time to promote and encourage young engineering talent.

The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation’s founding board members include Imahara’s mother, Carolyn Imahara, and close friends Don Bies, Anna Bies, Edward Chin, Fon H. Davis, Coya Elliott, and Ioanna Stergiades.

“There are many students, like my son Grant, who need the balance of the technical and the creative, and this is what STEAM is all about,” Carolyn Imahara said in a statement. “I’m so proud of my son’s career, but I’m equally proud of the work he did mentoring students. He would be thrilled that we plan to continue this, plus much more, through The Grant Imahara STEAM Foundation.”

Imahara friend Wade Bick is also launching an effort in concert with the USC Viterbi School of Engineering to name a study lounge after Imahara. Donations can be made here.

You can find out more about the foundation, and make a donation, on its website.