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More Fireworks from Mount St. Helens?

Ecologist Charlie Crisafulli checks plant growth in the Mount St. Helens blast zone with the volcano's crater in the background.
Howard Berkes, NPR /
Ecologist Charlie Crisafulli checks plant growth in the Mount St. Helens blast zone with the volcano's crater in the background.

Geologists say Washington state's Mount St. Helens volcano is continuing to build a new lava dome in a gradual eruption that began last week. And the dome is bulging like it did in 1980, when a massive sideways blast killed 57 people. But as NPR's Howard Berkes reports, a similar eruption is not expected anytime soon.

"It's very much a different mountain," says Charlie Crisafulli, a U.S. Forest Service ecologist who has been based at the volcano since 1980. "The geometry and form are different... and to a large extent, the volcano's been somewhat disarmed."

Geologists say Mount St. Helens appears to be rebuilding, in a process that could create the conditions for another giant explosion in the distant future -- perhaps 200 years from now.

Present activity is not expected to trigger the disastrous mudslides that caused so much damage and death in 1980, says Willie Scott, a volcano hazards geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

But lesser mudflows and smaller eruptions are still anticipated, and people downwind of the volcano can expect to endure ashfall, which caused an enormous mess in 1980.

And geologist Dan Miller has a final word of caution:

"We still have a ways to go in terms of forecasting what's going to happen next," Miller says. "We can tell you what's happening now and what happened yesterday but what happens tomorrow is hard for us to forecast."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.

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