On Wednesday, September 7, 2022, Mt. Rainer, WA, appeared to be venting steam from near its summit of 14,411 feet.
— Kristin Clark (@KClarkWx) September 7, 2022
This was especially concerning considering the mountain is an active volcano. Fortunately, geologists and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) confirmed that it was not erupting. Scientists and volcanologists studied the mountain from several angles and concluded it was a lenticular cloud. Lenticular clouds occur when moist air is pushed up and over the top of a mountain, forming a disc-shaped cloud.
Mount Rainier is NOT erupting. We have looked at the cloud that has caused concern from multiple webcams and have determined that it is a lenticular cloud. In addition, the USGS reports no indications of unusual seismic activity. ~pw
— MountRainierNPS (@MountRainierNPS) September 7, 2022
It just so happens that the USGS is currently working on installing new monitoring equipment at the volcano this week. There are currently no indications of unusual seismic activity. This comes as a relief considering the catastrophic consequences that could happen if the volcano did erupt.
Still a dangerous volcano
Although Mt. Rainier has not had a significant eruption in the past 500 years, it is potentially the most dangerous volcano in the Cascade Range. It is listed as one of the 16 most deadly volcanos in the world. This is because of its high elevation, frequent earthquakes, and extensive snow and glacier ice. These factors, combined with the densely populated area in the vicinity would have devastating consequences. The destruction would be even greater than when nearby Mt. St Helens erupted in 1980. Experts predict that if it were to erupt it could cause one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.
Mt. Rainier is located just 54 miles from the Puget Sound area which has a population of over 4 million people. It is possible that lahars or lava flows would reach Seattle, but it could cause other damage as well. Volcanic ash could contaminate the city’s drinking water and be bad enough to cave in roofs and cause other damage.
For now, the residents in Seattle, Tacoma, Yakima, and the surrounding areas are safe. Mt. Rainier is one of the most postcard-worthy peaks in the region. Let’s hope it stays that way.