Wayback Wednesday: St. Helens goes boom
The warnings from the USGS had been steadily coming since 1980 when a series of earthquakes began around the Mount St. Helens area. The pressure building up inside the volcano was going to cut itself loose at some point, and the results were not going to be pretty.
The question was when. Some believed it was imminent. Skeptics believed it could be a hundred years.
One man who operated under that assumption was Harry Truman (not that one). This Truman owned a lodge on the mountain and, despite repeated warnings and requests for him to leave, he decided to stay. Truman had lived on the mountain for nearly a half century and he wasn't about to leave because some scientists told him to.
"If the mountain goes, I'm going with it. This area is heavily timbered, Spirit Lake is in between me and the mountain, and the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain't gonna hurt me... boy."
Famous last words.
At 10:32 a.m. (Oklahoma time) on May 18, 1980, the mountain began to rumble. Then it began to shudder. Then it began to come apart, sending an estimated 540 million tons of dirt and ash into the atmosphere and rivers of mud and debris down to those below.
When it was over, the eruption changed the shape of the mountain forever, with one side of it completely blown away.
All told 57 people lost their lives with many more injured. Here's a retrospective USA Today did on the event.
Trees on the mountain and in the vicinity were flattened and mud flows swept away homes.
The impact went well beyond the immediate area. Ash clouds could be seen throughout parts of the western United States.
And Harry? He didn't make it. The 83-year-old and his dog were killed instantly by pyroclastic flow, a fast moving current of hot gas and rock which reaches speeds of up to 400 mph and can be as scorching as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit.
Truman's life was extinguished in a way friends said he would have approved of, but his legacy lived on. Several songs were written about him and he was portrayed by Art Carney in a 1981 HBO docudrama.