Explosive Forecasting

Jan 22 2021

Originally posted to KornFerry.com on January 22, 2021

For two months, the volcano had been rumbling with earthquakes and small explosions, spewing steam and plumes of ash. Steve Malone, a geophysicist and research professor from the University of Washington, flew in with colleagues by helicopter to undertake the perilous task of adjusting seismometers on the side of an extremely active volcano. As they worked on the equipment, the ground shook so much that Malone and his colleagues squatted down at times and held on. “It felt like the mountain was going to kick us off,” he recalls.

That volcano was Mount St. Helens, which erupted on May 18, 1980—a mere two days after Malone and his colleagues had worked at the site.

Now, 41 years later, Malone reminds us about the Mount St. Helens disaster—one of the largest in recent memory. It began with a magnitude 5.1 earthquake that triggered a huge landslide—the largest avalanche of debris ever recorded. A violent blast of hot ash, rocks, and boulders blew down every tree within the area and seared those on the perimeter. The damage extended almost 20 miles. Fifty-seven people died, including some of Malone’s colleagues and friends, and hundreds of homes were destroyed. After the blast, the summit of the mountain was gone, more than 150 new lakes and ponds were formed, and rivers changed course. “It was basically worse than the worst-case scenario,” says Malone, who is now a professor emeritus but continues his passion in volcanology.

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