Mount St. Helens on Tuesday uncorked its most spectacular explosion since it reawakened last autumn, sending a rush-hour blast of billowing white steam and ash 36,000 feet into the air.
Within a few minutes, the huge cloud unfurled itself to the height of jetliners passing by at cruising altitude. It is believed to be the biggest explosion at the volcano since 1982, easily eclipsing a pair of sizable steam and ash blasts in early October. This event lasted about 30 minutes.
None of the previous explosions flung rocks outside the crater, and scientists aren't expecting to find anything more than ash beyond the crater this time. The ash cloud, which drifted off toward the east-northeast, appeared to dissipate more quickly than a smaller ash cloud that dumped a light coating of ash 30 miles northeast in Randle on Oct. 5.