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Here’s why people have been worried about a possible Mount Baker eruption

Video shows steam vents in a crater on Mount Baker

Steam vents, known as fumaroles, are shown just inside the west rim of Sherman Crater on Mount Baker in 2010. The trip was organized by the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center at Western Washington University. More information: http://mbvrc.wwu.edu
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Steam vents, known as fumaroles, are shown just inside the west rim of Sherman Crater on Mount Baker in 2010. The trip was organized by the Mount Baker Volcano Research Center at Western Washington University. More information: http://mbvrc.wwu.edu

Mount Baker put on an impressive show for Whatcom County observers last week, thanks to a combination of weather conditions that made its daily venting all that more spectacular.

So many people noticed the plumes from Sherman Crater atop the 10,781-foot stratovolcano that social media went viral with photos and speculation about a possible eruption.

But the experts said no, no, no and no.

“It’s normal behavior,” said Carolyn Driedger, a hydrologist at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver.

“It’s an active volcano, it’s not an erupting volcano,” she said, adding that gases were measured in October and seismographs have shown no increased earthquake frequency.

“If we were seeing deformation, you’d know about it,” Driedger said.

Driedger said that Mount Baker — like many other West Coast volcanoes — vents gas and steam all the time.

But Baker’s crater is near its peak, she said, making the plume more visible, while volcanoes such as Rainier, Hood and Lassen vent from their sides or deep in their craters.

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Anacortes resident Nadja Rua Baker, who maintains the Northwest Adventuring page on Facebook, shot this photo of Mount Baker on Saturday from the Port of Anacortes terminal on the Guemes Channel. Nadja Rua Baker Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“It’s way up high so more people see it,” Driedger said. “It has that perfect shape to it. It’s warmer air, so it rises.”

Recent clear skies and lighter winds at higher altitudes could be another reason that the steam cloud is so prominent, said meteorologist Gary Schneider at the National Weather Service in Seattle.

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Mount Baker’s steam plume was especially impressive Saturday in this photo from Semiahmoo taken by John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management. John Gargett Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald


“People all around the world experience this with their local volcanoes,” Driedger said. “There’s heat beneath, and when it hits the groundwater, it steams. If you have calm skies, you’re going to have a nice plume like that.”

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Mark Swenson of Bellingham shot this photo of a small plane taking in the view on Saturday as Mount Baker’s steam plume rises impressively because of a clear day with relatively light winds. Swenson was on Ferndale Road south of Slater Road. Mark Swenson Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

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Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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