Largest Wave to Hit Washington State

On my recent camping trip, my 12-year-old son asked: “What’s the largest wave in the history of Washington?”

My answer?

"Probably from the Tsunami, connected with the last Cascadia event in January of 1700."


The correct answer he heard in school:

The May 18th, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens created an estimated 500-foot wave at Spirit Lake.

Jim Nieland US Forest Service (Via WikiCommons)
Mt. St. Helens & Spirit Lake CREDIT: Jim Nieland US Forest Service (Via WikiCommons)

During this historic event, Spirit Lake was covered over by tons and tons of debris. The lateral blast created a forceful debris avalanche, depositing burnt trees, dirt, and volcanic ash into Spirit Lake.  Scientists believe the volcanic heat blast produced an initial wave as high as 850 feet above lake level. Conservative amounts for the wave range from 300-500 feet, which still would result in the greatest estimated wave in Washington history.

On April 30th, 1980 - less than 3 weeks before the major eruption, Washington State Governor Dixie Lee Ray signed an order closing portions of the mountain, intending to save lives.

The tale of Spirit Lake’s famous resident: Harry Truman

KATU News (Via YouTube)
KATU News (Via YouTube)

Before the eruption, Spirit Lake was home to several six youth camps and two lodges. The two lodges were Spirit Lake Lodge and Mt. St. Helens Lodge, owned by 84-year-old Harry Truman, who refused to heed the Governor's orders and leave.

Harry Truman had called Spirit Lake his home since 1929. He ran the Lodge for over 50 years.

Portland’s KATU News reported that Harry’s lodge was destroyed several times by high winds and by wildfire. Each time he and his wife Edie would rebuild.  In 1978, Edie passed away of a heart attack.

Losing his longtime wife was a big reason why he stubbornly stayed. Why he wouldn't budge and leave behind his beloved Lodge? 

'No, I’m not gonna leave it. Damn right I’m not gonna leave. I’m gonna stay here…tell me, if I left this place and lost my home, I’d die in a week. I couldn’t live. I couldn’t…I’m like that old captain and by God I’m going down with the ship. If the damn thing takes this mountain, I’m going along with it. I’d rather be dead, than to live without it.' -Harry R. Truman (1896-1980)


INFO: KATU News, Seattle's KOMO 4 News

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