Volcano Moments

Posted May 4 2008, 1:45 am in , ,

Recently, I was tagged and asked to list some random things about me. This was one of them:

I’ve experienced a blackout caused by volcanic ash and still have little containers of ash that I collected from the 8 inches that accumulated on the balcony of my apartment.

A few people asked me about that so I thought I’d do a blog post on my volcano experience. In May of 1980, I was attending college at Washington State University in Pullman when Mt. St. Helens blew. Now Pullman isn’t anywhere near Mt. St. Helens, but we experienced the fallout.

My three roommates and I had a 2nd-story apartment that looked out onto an athletic field. Within an few hours of the eruption, we could see a large, odd-shaped black cloud heading our way. We actually thought it was a huge storm. We were studying for finals and hadn’t turned on the TV or radio. We didn’t realize it was a HUGE ash cloud heading our way. One of my roommate’s parents called and set us straight.

As the cloud descended on us, it turned a hot Pullman afternoon into total blackness. First, the ash blocked out the sun and the street lights came on, then the ash started falling, looking like a heavy gray snowstorm. Eventually, it became so thick that we couldn’t see the street lights. It’s the only time I’ve ever heard the emergency broadcast system in other than test mode. All the local TV stations were broadcasting emergency messages. The fire department drove by with loudspeakers and warned everyone to stay inside. No one knew what this ash would do to our lungs.

Needless to say, we spent about three days locked in this apartment in 90+ degree weather and couldn’t even open a window. Our deck and all the surrounding area was covered in 6-8 inches of ash. When we finally ventured out, everyone was wearing surgical masks because you couldn’t breathe the stuff.

WSU eventually decided allow students to go home instead taking our finals. Mt. St. Helens saved me from my computer programming final, which I swear I’d never have passed and ended up with a “B.”

My summer job was working for the FAA Air Traffic Regional Office. Our office was taxed with ensuring that planes and helicopters didn’t fly directly over Mt. St. Helens. Often, our pilots would patrol the area. One of the guys in the office took me flying into the no-fly zone over Mt. St. Helens. I had the unique experience of looking directly into the crater and have some incredible pictures of the devastation caused by the blast.

So that’s my volcano story. It’s one of those unforgettable moments in life. Someday I’ll write about my earthquake experience.



2 responses to “Volcano Moments”

  1. Wendi says:

    Jami, this needs to be in a book! What a neat experience to have filed in your memory bank. 🙂

    I’ve never been around an active volcano. Did it smell like sulfur?

    Wendi Darlin

  2. robynl says:

    wow, what an experience. Totally locked away from the outside world would seen kind of clostrophobic.