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Remember Mt. St. Helens' 40th anniversary virtually this year

Forty years ago this month, Mt. St Helens erupted, killing 57 people, spewing forth 540 million tons of ash and changing our world forever.

For many, the eruption date of May 18 is something they will always remember, and visiting the volcano on that date has even become an annual trek. But, this year, the Washington Emergency Management Division, the Cascades Volcano Observatory and Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are asking you to observe the volcano from a distance and to stay home.

The gates on State Route 504 near Coldwater Lake will remain closed for the anniversary. Johnston Ridge Observatory and its visitor center will remain closed. The nearby visitor center run by the Washington State Parks will also remain closed. Check later this year for when gates will be re-opened and visitor centers staffed again.

“May is Volcano Awareness Month, a time we want you to not just look at Mt. St. Helens, but remember we have four other active volcanoes in our state – Mount Rainer, Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak,” says Brian Terbush, volcano program preparedness coordinator for the Washington Emergency Management Division. “This year, please visit virtually with the many, many scientists and experts willing to share information and listen to your memories of what happened on May 18 and the years that followed.”

The non-profit Mount St. Helens Institute has helped compile many events on its website to help you experience our state’s famous volcano from a distance. You’ll have a chance to interact with volcano scientists and experts – and even chances to share your own stories.

From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Tuesday, May 12, speakers from Washington Emergency Management Division and the Cascades Volcano Observatory will answer your questions using the online platform Reddit. Ask us Anything.

Brian Terbush, volcano program preparedness coordinator for the Washington Emergency Management Division

On May 18, there will also be a Facebook Live opportunity chance to ask Terbush questions. Also, on May 18, there will be chances to talk with a ranger at Gifford Pinchot National Park, a seismologist with the University of Washington, a USGS volcanologist in partnership with OMSI and a special story hour with Washington State Parks. More events are being posted on a regular basis at

Mount St. Helens Institute also has a bingo card for you to use at home and weekly art challenges to help you inspire the wonder of Mount St. Helens through visual art, poetry and prose. On May 16, entertainer Bill Nye will also do an online event about Mt. St. Helens in support of the institute. 

On Twitter, engage with experts and the public at large using hashtag #MSH40. You can also go through the daily social media posts and videos from USGS Volcanoes on what was happening on Mt. St. Helens 40 years ago. The posts show how people questioned whether Mt. St. Helens would actually ever erupt. We all saw what happened. Our scientists are our trusted sources when we can’t physically see the evidence in front of us — for any disaster.

“Ongoing disasters are all complicated situations requiring a difficult balance, but the number one priority in emergency management is always life safety,” Terbush said. “This Volcano Awareness Month, while we can’t physically visit the volcanoes for other safety reasons, take advantage of the many opportunities to learn more about volcano safety, the people who monitor these volcanoes and the impacts these mountains have had on our culture in Washington.”