Mount St. Helens has calmed down and is no longer likely to erupt at any moment, the U.S. Geological Survey announced Wednesday.
A day after telling residents of the Pacific Northwest that they should get used to the idea of living with an active volcano, the agency lowered the volcano's alert classification from the highest level, which meant an eruption was likely within 24 hours.
The high level of alert was ordered last Saturday when Mount St. Helens, the most active volcano on the West Coast, entered a period of "very, very vigorous" unrest, said Willie Scott, a USGS geologist.
That unrest, which caused the south side of the volcano's dome to rise, crack and belch highly photogenic but harmless columns of steam and ash, "slowed down greatly" after an eruption Tuesday, Scott said.
He said a five-day rhythmic pattern of increasing pressure inside the volcano, followed by a sudden venting of steam and ash, appears to have ended.
"We no longer think an eruption is imminent, in the sense of minutes or hours," Scott said. "We could be in for days, weeks, perhaps even months of relative quiet."
He added, however, that Mount St. Helens is not finished with its season of unrest, which began 12 days ago after six years of quiet.
Scientists have consistently said that the volcano has a near-negligible chance of another cataclysmic eruption similar to the one in 1980, which killed 57 people and blew away much of the mountain.
"There's not necessarily going to be a big one," said Jacob B. Lowenstern, a USGS researcher. "People have to get that out of their minds."