PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. - An odd-looking cloud formation over Mount Rainier drew curious eyes from social media users Wednesday as the volcano looked as if it was giving a warning before some sort of event, but experts quickly downplayed any concerns.
The low-hanging cloud appeared around the 14,400-foot summit before noon local time, causing some residents to believe the active volcano was venting.
Experts with the United States Geological Survey looked at seismic activity, sensors and relied on a group of volcanologists who were coincidentally doing work on the mountain to confirm that was no unusual activity taking place.
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"Rainier is not erupting - the sort of behavior seen in this video is not unusual," the United States Geological Survey said on Twitter.
"This has nothing to do with the volcano itself. If there was new venting, we would see a number of signals that give us a sense of activity," said Elizabeth Westby, a USGS geologist.
Mount Rainier National Park officials said the cloud that started the debate was likely a lenticular cloud, which typically forms when winds blow over and around rough terrain.
If there was an uptick in volcanic activity, it would have been an unusual sight for the mountain, only about 70 miles outside of Seattle.
"The last eruption of Mount Rainier was about a thousand years ago. Volcanoes have a long lifespan but can become dormant if there is no activity for several thousand years," Westby said.
Is the active volcano in danger of erupting soon? No, experts say.
During the eruption of Mount Saint Helens in 1980, there were at least eight and a half weeks of precursory signals before the explosion.
The USGS said if there was any increase in volcanic activity, seismic sensors would likely pick up on activity first.
"If we observed some anomalous behavior, we would be working with our monitoring partner, the Pacific Northwest Seismic. We would be communicating with Washington Emergency Management Division. We would be making sure that they have all the latest information and a preliminary assessment of what’s going on at Mount Rainier," Westby said.
The geologist said the latest episode of the mountain’s 15 minutes of fame was a good reminder that those living within range of the volcano should consider that September is National Preparedness Month.
Residents living nearby should learn about potential hazards, form an emergency plan and compile an emergency kit if the volcano ever threatens the State of Washington.