Mount St. Helens from space
It was twenty-four years ago today that Mount St. Helen blew its top. Literally, the top 400 meters (~1300 ft) of the mountain was blasted away in the eruption. The ash and smoke that blew into the stratosphere, turned the skies dark and lowered the local temperatures. 270 square miles of forest was destroyed (NYC is 321 square miles). The eruption was accompanied by a series of earthquakes that caused the north side of the mountain to collapse. The heat of the eruption caused the snow and ice on the mountain to rapidly melt, causing mudslides that buried the Toutle River Valley to an average depth of 150 feet. The area around the volcano was declared a national monument and scientists have been observing the slow recovery of the devastated area.

Although there was a lot of physical damage, Mount St. Helens is in an isolated area so there was relatively little loss of human life or damage to buildings. Other parts of the world are much more susceptible to natural disasters. The New York Times reports today that floods, storms and other weather disasters last year killed 75,000 people worldwide and caused about $65 billion in economic damage. Ninety-eight percent of those victims were in the poorest nations. The World Meteorological Organization, estimates that improved weather forecasts and disaster preparedness could cut those losses in half. Volcanoes haven't erupted near New York for quite a while, but as we reported yesterday Gothamist is busy making preparations should a hurricane approach.