The explosivity of silicic eruptions depends on the interplay between magma rheology, exsolution kinetics, and degassing. Magma degassing is governed by the competing effects of vertical transport within the conduit and the lateral flux of gas out of the conduit ( [Diller et al., 2006] and [Jaupart and Allegre, 1991]). We combine a simplified treatment of these degassing processes with thermodynamic modeling to examine the conditions present at Mount St. Helens during the spine extruding eruption from 2004 to 2008. We find that two parameters are primarily responsible for controlling the eruptive style: the magma chamber temperature, and a dimensionless parameter that gauges the efficiency of lateral degassing. Together, these parameters determine whether and where magma can solidify at depth to form a dense solid plug that is gradually extruded as a volcanic spine. We show that the small (50 oC) decrease in magma chamber temperature between eruptive activity in the 1980s and that of 2004–2008, combined with a modest increase in degassing efficiency associated with lower volumetric flux, can explain the observed change in erupted material from viscous lava flows to solidified spines. More generally, we suggest that similar threshold behavior may explain observed abrupt transitions in effusive eruptive styles at other intermediate composition volcanoes. Finally, we extrapolate our results to suggest that the increase in degassing efficiency accompanying decreasing magma supply rates may have caused the transition from explosive to effusive activity in late 1980.