At least they know more this time then they did in 1980…
Was returning from a concert in Seattle on the morning of May 18th, 1980 and had just passed through the town of Vantage, Washington on the way home to Spokane. Suddenly, trucks, mobile homes and every passenger vehicle on the road started blowing by me on 1-90 doing 90+mph. When they noticed my rather sedate speed, the other vehicles honked, rolled down the windows and gestured frantically behind me…What I saw when I turned around was unbelievable. From horizon to horizen, a solid wall of black, with hundreds of lightning bolts flashing down continiously.
I put the pedal down on my 1970 Z-28 and turned on the news. The geologists were saying that the cloud could be toxic, and to get the hell out of it’s way. It’s travelling northeast at 80-90mph and if you are anywhere on 1-90 run for your life…Within 30 seconds of that announcment, I was doing 140mph.
I blew through Moses Lake, Washington at this speed, and the state troopers had red flags on 10 foot poles waving the traffic on through…A very strange sight for a 19year old in a muscle car.
45 minutes and 110 miles later, I pulled into my driveway just in time to see the ash begin to fall. Within an hour, enough of the stuff had fallen to reduce visibility to under 5 feet. We ended up with about 3 inches of ash in Spokane over the next 24 hours, and found out fairly quickly that driving in the stuff was next to impossible. The ash was so fine it would pass straight through any air filter, and a 5 minute drive anywhere required a complete oil change…Emergency vehicles were seizing engines left and right, with zero visibility on the roads. It took months for the dust to settle, and for many years afterwards, flying over Eastern Washington was an experience in grey.
Spokane is about 220 miles or so Northeast of Mt. St. Helens.
The good people in Portland had an ash-free, front row seat to the 1980 eruption due to the prevailing winds…However, they are only 50 miles southwest of the volcano, and a subsequent eruption the size of the 1980 one could bury the city in up to 2 feet of ash if the winds are coming out of the northeast (common this time of year).
Being in the path of a volcanic eruption, even at a distance, just isn’t any fun at all…