SISTERS, Ore. - At the Epicure Exchange Internet coffeehouse, it's hard not to get into a discussion about "The Bulge."
On computer screens inside, the latest updates on a curious volcanic bulge growing on the flanks of South Sister can be called up in an instant. Through the windows to the west, the dormant volcanic peak dominates the snowcapped skyline of the Cascade Range.
"It's a big hoopla in town right now. Everybody's talking about it," said coffeehouse owner Jeannine Smith, who moved her family to this town of 850 people to be closer to the majestic volcanic peaks that tower above it.
"It doesn't scare me," Smith said. But she added: "It is something to be considered."
About a dozen U.S. Geological Survey scientists are considering it very carefully. The current thinking is that an injection of magma is moving underneath the ground, and a team plans to fly to The Bulge in a helicopter next week to set out instruments to see if it is still growing.
"It is clearly not a crisis we are responding to, as if we were having swarms of shallow earthquakes or anything of that nature," said USGS geologist Dan Dzurisin. Earthquake swarms can indicate an impending eruption.
Still, The Bulge "is scientifically the most interesting target we have in the Cascades right now," Dzurisin said.
Ever since Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980, the public has been sensitive to any rumblings in the Cascades, a string of volcanoes stretching from British Columbia to Northern California.
Some years after that eruption, people were worrying that Carver Lake, formed by a dam of loose rock pushed up by a glacier on South Sister, might fail and flood the town, recalled The Flyfisher's Place owner Jeff Perin, standing behind a counter filled with fly fishing reels.
"People have pretty much forgotten about that," he said.
When news of The Bulge spread, Nate Turner, who works at The Flyfisher's Place, got a call from a concerned East Coast pal who has a second home in Sisters.
"I told him I'd throw a sprinkler up on his roof if something was really going down," Turner said.
Turner recalled when the USGS Cascade Volcano Observatory surveyed South Sister with lasers in 1985 to establish a network of benchmarks to monitor events like The Bulge.
When the volcano was resurveyed in 1986, The Bulge hadn't shown up. But when new radar satellite imagery was trained on South Sister, USGS geophysicist Chuck Wicks, of Menlo Park, Calif., spotted it.