Filling of Spirit Lake, Washington, May 18, 1980 to July 31, 1982

Open-File Report 82-771




The rockslide/debris avalanche from the north face of Mount St. Helens that precipitated the volcano 's eruption on May 18, 1980 , blocked outflow from Spirit Lake, Washington. There has been no surface outflow since that time. From May 21, 1980, when the first measurement of lake level was made, to August 1, 1982, Spirit Lake has increased its volume from 122,800 acre-ft to 264 ,000 acre-ft, an increase of 115%. Lake level has risen approximately 54 ft during this period. Hydrologic and geologic properties of the debris dam are unknown, but the materials obviously are easily erodible. Steep walled channels up to 60 ft deep have been eroded into the dam and are extending headward toward the lowest points on the crest. In addition, it appears that the lower areas on the crest of the dam are underlain by ash cloud deposits of low density. Indications are that the debris dam could fail by headward erosion, by overtopping with rapid downcutting, or by ' piping ' and rapid erosion. Each type of failure can produce rapid release of stored lake water with very high discharge rates. On the basis of observed filling rates of the lake over the last two yr and precipitation records at four long-term, low altitude National Weather Service stations, it is expected that normal precipitation will fill the lake to the dam crest in December 1985. This estimate is also based on the assumption that loss of water from the lake by seepage continues at the present rate until December 1985. With normal precipitation during the coming yr (August 1982 through July 1983 the lake will fill to a level 50 ft below the lowest existing point on the crest of the debris dam, which is at 3,532 ft altitude. If precipitation exceeds normal by 1.5 times during this coming year, the lake level will be 40 ft below the 3 ,532-ft crest of the debris dam by the end of July 1983. This same lake level can be reached by the end of March 1983 if precipitation from October through March is twice the winter mean. (Author 's abstract)

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Filling of Spirit Lake, Washington, May 18, 1980 to July 31, 1982
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey,
iv, 23 p. :ill., maps ;28 cm.