Mount St. Helens Releases Ash Plume

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Mount St. Helens (search) made its most significant emission in months, sending a gritty ash cloud drifting slowly to the northeast.

The National Weather Service (search) issued an ashfall advisory Tuesday evening after pilots reported spotting ash higher than 30,000 feet, said National Weather Service meteorologist Danny Mercer. The advisory was cancelled early Wednesday.

A fine dusting of ash was reported 125 miles to the east-northeast in southern Grant County late Tuesday night, the National Weather Service reported.

The 30-minute outpouring began at 5:25 p.m. Tuesday, about an hour after a 2.0 magnitude quake rumbled on the east side of the 8,364-foot volcano, said Bill Steele, coordinator of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network (search) at the University of Washington.

Steele said he did not believe the explosion had increased the risk of a significant eruption and noted that recent flights over the volcano's crater did not reveal high levels of gases.

The volcano has vented ash and steam since last fall, when thousands of small earthquakes marked a seismic reawakening of the 8,364-foot mountain.

Steele said the latest ash burst may have been triggered by partial collapse of a lava dome in the crater, which has been growing steadily over the last several months.

Peggy Johnson, a university seismologist, said there had been no increase in quake activity before the explosion.

College roommates Scott Miller and William Nicoll, both 19, were visiting Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument (search) when the eruption happened. Miller snapped pictures before the two leaped into their car and drove west, yelling at other motorists to turn back until they had gone about a mile and felt safe again.

"It was a pretty big adrenaline rush," Nicoll said.

On May 18, 1980, the volcano 100 miles south of Seattle blew its top, killing 57 people and covering the region with gritty ash.

Mount St. Helens rumbled back to life Sept. 23, with shuddering seismic activity that peaked above magnitude 3 as hot magma broke through rocks in its path. Molten rock reached the surface Oct. 11, marking resumption of dome-building activity that had stopped in 1986.

Scientists have said a more explosive eruption, possibly dropping ash within a 10-mile radius of the crater, is possible at any time.