Contributed by Tim Hunter, Morning Personality on KRKO
It’s so cliche’ but I really do remember the day like it was yesterday.
May 18th, 1980.
We had gone back over the mountains to Yakima to visit my new in-laws. It was a Sunday morning and the established visiting the relatives routine was to get up, go for one more swim in their pool and then take on that drive back to Seattle.
I got up, grabbed some coffee and then looked outside and saw some dark clouds in the distance. “Crap,” I thought, “that pretty much kills the morning swim.” Just moments later, those darker-than-usual clouds continued to get closer—a lot closer, and appeared to be closing in fast. “Man, this is going to be a heck of a storm.”
It wasn’t a storm. It was the ash cloud from a just-erupted Mount Saint Helens. We were too far away to have heard the actual eruption, but we didn’t miss any of the ash. We were dead-center in the ash cloud’s path. From the in-laws hilltop home, I remember looking out over the valley as it moved in, street lights turning on, then disappearing in the ashy fog. It was like a giant dust storm except this was ash and a lot of it.
As you can imagine, for several days, things were just not right. At one point, we witnessed a giant spark of electricity coming into the house and going through the kitchen light fixture. It was like lightning, but must have been some kind of static electricity charge in the air.
We weren’t going anywhere. At the time, I worked at KOMO Radio in Seattle and so I began feeding reports and updates from our location. Eventually, I went outside to get a first-hand look at the ash. You think of it being like sand, but this was like a fine, powdery substance. I scooped up several coffee cans’ worth of the stuff to save as a souvenir, which I still have to this day. Somewhere under my house.
We ended up being stranded there for four days before the news broadcasts felt it was safe to travel in the stuff. Even then, we headed south and ended up looping through Portland due to the fact I-90 was closed on account of ash.
It took a long time for the ash to go away. Over the next year or two, I remember huge piles of it stacked up along the freeway, like snow. At the time, I drove a Plymouth Horizon and for all the years I continued to own it, every time I turned on the heater, a little ash would come shooting out.
I wrote down my experiences and sent them off to my hometown newspaper, The Daily Breeze, down in Torrance, California. They even published my account. Guess I’ll need to dig that out and see what else I’m forgetting.
I remember growing up and hearing my folks talk about “the war years” and thinking they were talking about ancient history. But they were reflecting back to events 30 years ago in their lives.
Now, 40 years later, here I am remembering that day when I found myself living through history, confined to a house. Huh, just like today.