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As It Was: Experts Remind Oregon of Volcanic History

Oregon geologic hazard experts reacted swiftly to the news in December that the White Island volcanic eruption in New Zealand had resulted in multiple deaths and injuries.  The state Office of Emergency Management advised Oregonians to be prepared for volcanic activity in the Cascades.

The office’s coordinator of geologic hazards awareness, Althea Rizzo, reminded Oregon news media that volcanos erupt in the Cascades “around every 50 years.”  She added, “These do happen fairly regularly and we’re certainly expecting one to happen again soon.”

The last deadly Pacific Northwest volcanic eruption was at Mount St. Helens in Washington State on May 18, 1980.  The powerful explosions, only 50 miles northwest of Portland Ore., caused 57 deaths and widespread property damage. It has been described as the deadliest and most
economy-damaging volcanic event in U.S. history.

Cascade volcanos include Hood near Portland, Jefferson and the Three Sisters east of the Willamette Valley, Newberry in Central Oregon, Crater Lake, and Mount Shasta in Northern California, all capable of new life. 

Rizzo notes that volcanoes tend to give plenty of warning.  She said, “They can wake up, they can go back to sleep, or they can ramp up and go boom.”


Mann, Damian. "Our Deadly Volcanoes." Mail Tribune, 10 Dec. 2019 [Medford, Ore.], mailtribune.com/news/top-stories/officials-list-oregon-volcanoes-that-could-erupt-next. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019; "May is Volcano Preparedness Month." Office of Emergency Management, Oregon.gov, 13 May 2019, www.oregon.gov/newsroom/Pages/NewsDetail.aspx?newsid=3288. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019; Herron, Elise. "After Deadly New Zealand Volcano Eruption, Oregon Office of Emergency Management Warns Residents to Prepare For Cascade Range Hazards." Willamette Week, 10 Dec. 2019, www.wweek.com/news/2019/12/09/after-deadly-new-zealand-volcano-eruption-oregon-office-of-emergency-management-warns-residents-to-prepare-for-cascade-range-hazards/. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019; "Mt. St. Helens." Wikipedia, Wikipedia, 5 Dec. 2019, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_St._Helens. Accessed 11 Dec. 2019.]

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.