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Throwback Thursday: Remembering Mount St. Helens eruption, another time our skies were darkened

FARGO - Widespread Saskatchewan wildfires brought to our area last week smoke and haze that turned the skies milky and the sun into a feeble red dot.

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May 22, 1980, Forum

FARGO - Widespread Saskatchewan wildfires brought to our area last week smoke and haze that turned the skies milky and the sun into a feeble red dot. With this somewhat eerie turn of the atmosphere, we wondered if there were any other periods in Fargo's history with similar effects. One of the huge events that stood out was the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington on May 18, 1980. In addition to killing 57 people there, the massive explosion spread ash to 11 states, including amounts from a trace to a half-inch in North Dakota, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  Traces of the ash were found all over the world, with some remnants sticking around in the atmosphere for several years, according to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from 2010.  In a June 14, 1980, edition of The Forum, the Associated Press reported findings from the Centers for Disease Control that ash particles in the North Dakota air from May 19-21 exceeded the "significant harm" levels of the Environmental Protection Agency. South Dakota didn't see levels that high, according to the article. By May 28, though, the level of airborne ash was back within EPA standards, the article says.

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May 22, 1980, Forum

A staff writer for The Forum at the time, Chet Gebert, talked with a former Fargoan living in Washington who saw the effects firsthand. Just last Saturday, on July 4, the EPA said the air in the Fargo-Moorhead region was the most unhealthy in the entire country because of the plumes of smoke and haze. The agency rated the air as "unhealthy," causing problems for those with respiratory illnesses. The more serious categories the EPA has for air quality are "very unhealthy" and "hazardous." Of course, we're not seeing the fallout from one of the worst volcanic eruptions in U.S. history. But when the haze accumulated last week, turning the area into a seeming permanent sunset, it might have been unsettling for some. Now it just depends on which way the wind blows as to whether that smoke will once again clog our skies.

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May 22, 1980, Forum

Related Topics: HEALTHWEATHER
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