Remembering the Eruption of Mount St. Helens

On May 18, 2013 at 8:32 am PDT, I hope you paused 
to celebrate the amazing power of our Earth, upon which so much depends.  Many of us throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond remember that moment on May 18, 1980 when Mount St. Helens erupted, changing lives and the landscape of the Washington Cascades forever.  This anniversary offers an excellent opportunity to connect middle grade readers with an array of informational text and online resources that tell this amazing story — massive destructive power unleashed in seconds, as well as incredible stories of survival and regeneration as the Earth continues to heal.


Volcano: The Eruption and Healing of Mount St. Helens by Patricia Lauber (book cover above)
This is my favorite book on the eruption!  Vivid photographs illustrate Lauber’s engaging description of the run-up to the eruption, the have-to-see-it-to-believe-it impacts on all living things within reach of the explosion, and the dramatic recovery that continues today, 33 years later.  Readers will be enthralled as they figure out how the terms “survivors” and “colonizers” apply in a special volcanic context.

Volcanoes & Earthquakes by James Putnam & Susanna van Rose
Dorling Kindersley’s Eyewitness Books are always kid favorites.  This book explores earth science events around the world, including the eruption of Mount St. Helens.  The photo-heavy format of DK books, with limited and supportive text, makes the book a great option for readers who may be fascinated with volcanoes but struggle with challenging text.


Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story 
by Terry Catasus Jennings & Laurie O’Keefe

OK, Gopher isn’t technically nonfiction, but the National Science Teachers Association liked it so much, they named it to the 2013 Outstanding Science Trade Books for K-12, calling it “A good story that gives an unusual perspective on a current topic, showing succession after a volcano eruption on Mt. St. Helens.

Will It Blow?: Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens
by Elizabeth Rusch; ill. by K.E. Lewis
Readers who wonder what’s next for Mount St. Helens and other active volcanoes can put on their scientist/detective caps and tackle the question, “Will it blow — and when?”  Interactive, engaging, and grounded in the real-life work that challenges scientists right now.


Teaching Resources

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Visit the US Forest Service’s rich, interactive website on everything related to the eruption and rebirth!  Students can take a webcam peek at the mountain in real time, or watch archived video of a period of significant eruptions from 2004.

US Geological Survey Volcano Hazards Program: Mount St. Helens
This site is filled with accessible scientific information from the United States Geological Survey.  Students can hear directly from USGS scientists about what happened leading up to, during, and after the eruption in a video that uses dramatic images from that day.

NOVA Program on the Eruption of Mount St. Helens (Public Broadcasting System)
This YouTube clip from an episode of the award-winning science program, NOVA on PBS, shows both real and simulated images of the eruption and its aftermath.

Gallery of Earth Images: NASA’s Space Place
See NASA satellite images of active volcanoes, from Mount St. Helens to all corners of the world.

Dave Crockett:  A First-Person Account by KOMO-4 (Seattle) News Photographer
The thoroughly riveting video was shot by a Seattle news photographer who was on Mount St. Helens that morning, because he “had a hunch that something was about to happen.”  Crockett was caught right in the middle of the action and miraculously survived.  Dave’s story reminds us also to honor the 57 people– loggers, campers, scientists — who were nearby but not as fortunate.


On May 18, 1980, Katherine Schlick Noe stepped out into a beautiful Seattle morning and heard what she thought were two distant sonic booms. She’s been fascinated with the story of Mount St. Helens ever since. Visit her at


Katherine Schlick Noe
  1. Dear Katherine,
    I remember that date. My sister, Judith Thomson and her family had to stay inside for days on end because of the ash in the air. At the time they were living in Oregon and by chance were riding to Washington State to visit family. The ash moved east and people across America found evidence of it.

    Later, animals from beneath the earth come to light. Plants that hadn’t grown there before, showed up.

    Thanks for sharing your stories and books about it, too.

    Celebrate you.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  2. One of the most original book lists I’ve ever seen! Thanks, Katherine.

  3. We had the pleasure of being on I5 in the vicinity when it blew the second time three days after the first eruption. Found out volcanic ash is as slick as ice. Fun trip.

  4. I was eleven and living in Grandview, WA when Mt. Saint Helens blew. It was a Sunday morning, and I remember coming out of our religous service to an eerie quiet and a yellow sky. It was lightly raining ash. I’ve never seen the sky that color ever again. Pretty intriguing.

  5. I live in Montana so my biggest memory was that enough ash made it’s way over to us that I got to miss school for a few days and we had to walk around with bandanas over our mouths. I wish I had been a bit older because this is the kind of thing that would fascinate me for hours now!