Our hidden volcano threat.
Today is the 35th anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. I grew up in California so I missed experiencing it in person and remember watching it on tv wondering if the ash could reach California. I also recall in 6th grade someone bringing a vial full of ash from Mount St. Helens. I remember thinking that it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. I instantly became fascinated with volcanoes and mountains of the world which may have also created my crazy geography fascination. Anyway that concludes my 10 year old recollection of the eruption of Mount St Helens.
On May 18th 1980 Mount St Helens erupted killing 57 people. Naturally the news media is widely covering the anniversary which lead me to an interesting article about a subject I have heard about before but never really paid much attention to. Did you know that there is an active volcano in Snohomish County called Glacier Peak?
(King 5 News image)
It’s hidden in the Cascade Mountain range about 50 miles east of Everett/Marysville and is on the list of the 18 most active volcanoes in the United States. In fact, except for Mount St. Helens, it has had more violent eruptions than any of the other 5 volcanoes in Washington. It isn’t visible like Mount Rainier or Mount Baker so unless you are at the top of Mount Pilchuck or any of the other high elevated trails you can’t see it which is why many people don’t even know it exists. Up until recently the USGS had not even given it the attention it needed. The only monitoring device was an outdated seismograph.
It’s proximity to where I live is why I took notice. I’m not in the “lahar zone”, which is the path of the mudflow, debris and glacial melt, but I know many people who do live in those areas and I do live within miles of the hazard zones. Communities like Darrington, Arlington, Stanwood to the south and Concrete, Lyman and Sedro Woolley could be in the path of the deadly flow since the lahar will follow the Sauk, Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers. The city of Darrington is actually built on the mudflow from an eruption tens of thousands of years ago and it is suspected that Burlington, Sedro Woolley and Lyman are as well.
Access to the mountain is very limited. The only way to get there are by trails off of Mountain Loop between Darrington and Granite Falls, making it extremely difficult to reach during the two months of the year it is accessible. However, by next year there will be 4 sets of monitoring equipment installed and studied by geophysicists. Having an advanced warning system makes me feel a little better. The last eruption was about 240 years ago and the last major eruption was about 1,800 years ago. The odds of an eruption on any given day is about 1 in 1,000, based on USGS estimates.
Living in the beautiful Pacific Northwest is certainly a risk. We have 5 active volcanoes and are in a dangerous seismic area. However, these geographic processes created the beauty we enjoy every day. But do the risks outweigh living in such an amazing place? I think as long as we recognize the geological hazards and we actually get prepared and stop putting it off, we should then enjoy what we have and not let fear take over.
Because my husband and I are from California and have experienced a few earthquakes we are “prepared”. Probably not as ready as we could be but we do have the basics. If you are reading this and want to learn more about how to prepare for a natural disaster click on the links below.