How much ash was there from the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens?

During the 9 hours of vigorous eruptive activity on May 18, 1980, about 540 million tons of ash from Mount St. Helens fell over an area of more than 22,000 square miles. The total volume of the ash before its compaction by rainfall was about 0.3 cubic mile, equivalent to an area the size of a football field piled about 150 miles high with fluffy ash.

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What was the extent of ash deposition from the largest Yellowstone eruptions?

During the three giant, caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic debris (volcanic ash) covered much of the western half of North America. That ash was likely a third of a meter deep several hundred kilometers from Yellowstone and several centimeters thick farther away ( see this...

Does ash ever erupt from Kīlauea Volcano??

Kīlauea Volcano is renowned for its relatively benign eruptions of fluid lava flows. Therefore, many people were surprised by the small explosions that occurred in Halema`uma`u Crater in 2008 and 2018, and even more surprised to learn that volcanic ash was being erupted from a new gas vent. However, ash emissions from Halema`uma`u Crater are part...

How old is Mount St. Helens?

The eruptive history of Mount St. Helens began about 40,000 years ago with dacitic volcanism, which continued intermittently until about 2,500 years ago. This activity included numerous explosive eruptions over periods of hundreds to thousands of years, which were separated by apparent dormant intervals ranging in length from a few hundred to...

What is the origin of the name "Mount St. Helens"?

Some Indians of the Pacific Northwest variously called Mount St. Helens 'Louwala-Clough,' or 'smoking mountain.' The modern name, Mount St. Helens, was given to the volcanic peak in 1792 by seafarer and explorer Captain George Vancouver of the British Royal Navy. He named it in honor of fellow countryman Alleyne Fitzherbert, who held the title ‘...

How many eruptions have there been in the Cascades during the last 4,000 years?

Eruptions in the Cascades have occurred at an average rate of one to two per century during the last 4,000 years. Future eruptions are certain. Learn more: Eruptions in the Cascade Range During the Past 4,000 Years USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory

How far did the ash from Mount St. Helens travel?

The May 18, 1980 eruptive column at Mount St. Helens fluctuated in height through the day, but the eruption subsided by late afternoon. By early May 19th, the eruption had stopped. By that time the ash cloud had spread to the central United States. Two days later, even though the ash cloud had become more diffuse, fine ash was detected by systems...

How high was Mount St. Helens before the May 18, 1980 eruption? How high was it after?

Before May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens ' summit altitude of 9,677 feet (2,950 meters) made it only the fifth highest peak in Washington State. It stood out handsomely, however, from surrounding hills because it rose thousands of feet above them and had a perennial cover of ice and snow. The peak rose more than 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above its...

Can volcanic eruptions endanger helicopters and other aircraft?

Yes. Encounters between aircraft and clouds of volcanic ash are a serious concern. Jet engines and other aircraft components are vulnerable to damage by fine, abrasive volcanic ash, which can drift in dangerous concentrations hundreds of miles downwind from an erupting volcano. In the past, many aircraft have accidentally encountered volcanic ash...

Why is it important to monitor volcanoes?

The United States and its territories contain 169 geologically active volcanoes, of which 54 volcanoes are a high threat or very high threat to public safety. Many of these volcanoes have erupted in the recent past and will erupt again in the foreseeable future. As populations increase, areas near volcanoes are being developed and aviation routes...

What was the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century?

The World's largest eruption of the 20th century occurred in 1912 at Novarupta on the Alaska Peninsula. An estimated 15 cubic kilometers of magma was explosively erupted during 60 hours beginning on June 6th. This volume is equivalent to 230 years of eruption at Kilauea (Hawaii) or about 30 times the volume erupted by Mount St. Helens (Washington...

What was the most destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States?

The May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens (Washington) was the most destructive in the history of the United States. Novarupta (Katmai) Volcano in Alaska erupted considerably more material in 1912, but owing to the isolation and sparse population of the region, there were no human deaths and little property damage. In contrast, the eruption of...

What are some benefits of volcanic eruptions?

Over geologic time, volcanic eruptions and related processes have directly and indirectly benefited mankind. Volcanic materials ultimately break down and weather to form some of the most fertile soils on Earth, cultivation of which has produced abundant food and fostered civilizations. The internal heat associated with young volcanic systems has...
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Date published: May 18, 2017

Ever Vigilant: USGS Marks the 37th Anniversary of Mount St. Helen's Eruption and the 35th Anniversary of the Cascades Volcano Observatory

Today, in 1980, Mount St. Helens unleashed the most devastating eruption in U.S. history. Two years later, USGS founded the Cascades Volcano Observatory to monitor Mount St. Helens and all the Cascades Volcanoes.

Date published: May 17, 2017

EarthWord–Phreatic Eruption

This EarthWord is straight up steampunk...

Date published: May 16, 2017


Which sounds more dangerous, lava or mud? The answer may surprise you...

Date published: May 1, 2017

May is Volcano Preparedness Month in Washington State

May is Volcano Preparedness Month in Washington, providing residents an opportunity to become more familiar with volcano hazards in their communities and learn about steps they can take to reduce potential impacts.

Date published: September 12, 2016


It’s not flirting for submarines, but this week’s EarthWord does feature the ocean...

Date published: August 22, 2016


Look! In the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane! Wait, run, it’s this week’s EarthWord!

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February 22, 2018

PubTalk 2/2018 — USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory

Title: The USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory - Research, monitoring, and the science of preparing society for low-probability, high-consequence events

  • Volcanoes in the Cascade Range erupt twice per century on average, with eruptions often lasting for years.
  • Although eruptions are generally not as high-consequence as large earthquakes, they are still
May 26, 2016

Forecasting Ashfall Impacts from a Yellowstone Supereruption

  • Yellowstone is one of a few dozen volcanoes on earth capable of "supereruptions" that expel more than 1,000 cubic km of ash and debris.
  • The plumes from such eruptions can rise 30 to 50 km into the atmosphere, three to five times as high as most jets fly.
  • Yellowstone has produced three supereruptions in the past 2.1 million years. The most recent was
Mount St. Helens before and after 1980 eruption
May 9, 2016

Mount St. Helens before and after 1980 eruption

Left: Before the eruption of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens' elevation was 2,950 m (9,677 ft). View from the west, Mount Adams in distance. S. Fork Toutle River is valley in center of photo.

Right: Mount St. Helens soon after the May 18, 1980 eruption, as viewed from Johnston's Ridge.

video thumbnail: Volcano Hazards
July 30, 2012

Volcano Hazards

The United States has 169 active volcanoes. More than half of them could erupt explosively, sending ash up to 20,000 or 30,000 feet where commercial air traffic flies. USGS scientists are working to improve our understanding of volcano hazards to help protect communities and reduce the risks.

Video Sections:

  • Volcanoes: Monitoring Volcanoes
May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 6: Societal Impacts of Volcanism

USGS geologist, Angie Diefenbach, describes how she uses GIS, (Geographic Information Systems) software to study volcanic eruptions and their impacts on society.

May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 2: Debris Flows

Debris flows are hazardous flows of rock, sediment and water that surge down mountain slopes and into adjacent valleys. Hydrologist Richard Iverson describes the nature of debris-flow research and explains how debris flow experiments are conducted at the USGS Debris Flow Flume, west of Eugene, Oregon. Spectacular debris flow footage, recorded by Franck Lavigne of the

May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 4 - Instruments

USGS technologist Rick LaHusen describes how the development and deployment of instruments plays a crucial role in mitigating volcanic hazards.

May 9, 2012

Volcano Web Shorts 5 - Volcanic Ash Impacts

Volcanic ash is geographically the most widespread of all volcanic hazards. USGS geologist Larry Mastin describes how volcanic ash can disrupt lives many thousands of miles from an erupting volcano. The development of ash cloud models and ash cloud disruption to air traffic is highlighted.

video thumbnail: Mount St. Helens: May 18, 1980
May 10, 2010

Mount St. Helens: May 18, 1980

USGS scientists recount their experiences before, during and after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Loss of their colleague David A. Johnston and 56 others in the eruption cast a pall over one of the most dramatic geologic moments in American history.

video thumbnail: Mount St. Helens: A Catalyst for Change
May 10, 2010

Mount St. Helens: A Catalyst for Change

The May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens triggered a growth in volcano science and volcano monitoring. Five USGS volcano observatories have been established since the eruption. With new technologies and improved awareness of volcanic hazards USGS scientists are helping save lives and property across the planet.

December 31, 2006

Mount St. Helens 2004-2008 Eruption: A Volcano Reawakens

Mount St. Helens reawakened in late September 2004. Small magnitude earthquakes beneath the 1980-1986 lava dome increased in frequency and size, and a growing welt formed on the southeast margin of the previous lava dome and nearby portions of Crater Glacier. On October 1, 2004, the first of several explosions shot a plume of volcanic ash and gases from a vent on the

December 31, 2004

Mount St. Helens eruption highlights: September 2004 - May 2005

Compilation video of significant events from the dome-building eruption at Mount St. Helens, from October 1, 2004 to March 15, 2005, including steam and ash eruptions, growth of lava spines, helicopter deployment of monitoring equipment, collection of lava samples, and FLIR thermal imaging of rock collapse on lava dome.

  1. Eruption of Mount St. Helens,  October 1