Massive landslides caused by worsening climate

Oso slide in Washington earlier this year; photo credit: Spc. Matthew Sissel Washington State National Gaurd via Flickr.

 By guest contributor Matt Owens
An enormous Alaska landslide made news this winter, then in the spring another slide in Washington state tragically killed dozens of people in their own homes. In May Colorado  became the scene of another massive slide. These mudslides are being caused by worsening global climate conditions.

In the case of Alaska, their huge slide followed an exceptionally long period of above-freezing weather during that region’s winter which caused the hills to thaw out and the precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow.

In Washington, the landslide was preceded by unprecedented rainfall.

Likewise, in the case of May’s Colorado slide, heavy rainfall was also a factor, along with high temperatures that combined with the rain to help abruptly melt the snowpack earlier than normal.

According to Stan Hilkey, Sheriff of Mesa County, Colorado, the mudslide in the headwaters of West Salt Creek area was more than massive.

“Massive would be an understatement,” he said, describing the slide as at least 2.5 to 3 miles long, and half a mile wide at points. It’s 20 to 30 feet deep on the edges – and according to what he’s heard from residents familiar with the local area, it could be 300 feet deep in the middle. Hilkey described shattered timber in the slide, a wet-saturated area at the top of the slide, and dry dirt at the bottom of the slide.

Three people who went to investigate a small earlier slide in the West Salt Creek area are missing and feared dead. One was a county employee, accompanied by his son.
Unmanned aerial drones with infrared cameras are flying overhead to try and detect any heat signatures in case there are survivors. A manned helicopter has also been flying overhead throughout the course of the day.

As the global climate worsens, snowpacks will melt more abruptly and rainfall amounts will be heavier. Both these factors will increase the frequency and the size of mudslides and the like.

This was original posted on Fairfax Climate Watch.

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