Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Waiting for Redoubt and remembering Mt. Spurr

For three days the Anchorage Daily News has been reporting that one of our local volcanoes, Mt. Redoubt, is getting restless. Here's the latest info, both from ADN and The Alaska Volcano Observatory.

If she blows it won't be my first experience with volcanic activity. Mt. Spurr, the closest volcano to Anchorage, erupted three times in summer 1992.

It's been nearly 17 years since Mt. Spurr last erupted. During the first eruption, June 27, my parents were visiting. We were eating a meal in Talkeetna when the news was announced. How exciting! My parents might not have seen many moose on that particular trip, but they would get to be part of a volcanic eruption! How often do you get to return home from vacation and share that tale? However, the ash cloud went far to the west and bypassed most populated areas and we didn't actually witness any of it. The second eruption is a different story.

I was at a gathering on August 18 when the second eruption was announced with a warning that an ash cloud was headed directly towards Anchorage. A few of us jumped in the car and headed towards an area that overlooks Cook Inlet and Mt. Spurr. We watched as the ash cloud advanced towards us. It was very ominous to behold the large dark cloud slowly swallowing the sky and turning day to night. A few minutes after we returned to the party, ash began falling like sandy snow.

The folks back at the party had been watching the news and learned that we needed to protect our car engines from ash damage, prior to driving home. This is done by placing pantyhose over the car's air intake. A group of us sprang into action. Our hostess donated a large bag of her pantyhose to the cause and we proceeded to "ash proof" our cars. It was black as night with sandy ash raining down on our heads, making a sound like sleet as it landed. One of the men put some stockings on his head. This proved to be a fantastic bit of foresight on his part as the gritty particles are almost impossible to wash from your hair and I had "gritty scalp" for at least a week.

The drive home that evening had a "post apocalyptic" feel to it. Curiosity seekers were out walking with dust masks or scarves over their faces. People were still on the road, checking out the scene; we even passed one guy riding his motorcycle in the ash cloud! It was so strange for it to be pitch black so early on a summer evening, as we still have daylight until nearly 11pm in late August. It was a very surreal scene that just felt "wrong" somehow.

When we awoke the next morning, the ash fall had stopped and skies were again clear. There was 1/8 inch of ash covering everything. The gardens had to be hosed clean and sidewalks swept. Street sweepers worked around the clock but the ash persisted for weeks, stirred up by traffic on the roads. Finally the dependable fall rains came and cleaned things up and by October the ash was forgotten under winter snows.

The next summer things were greener than usual due to the fertilizing nutrients in the ash. I guess even Mother Nature's clouds of wrath have a silver lining.


  1. Hey Alicia, Your Dad & I do remember sitting at the restaurant (bar)eating a snack & I do believe we actually had a beer; looking at the TV, we saw the news of the eruption. This was our 1st trip to Alaska, but hard to believe it was 17 years ago. Love, MOM