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Early warning of rainfall-induced shallow landslides and debris flows in the USA

January 1, 2010

The state of knowledge and resources available to issue alerts of precipitation-induced landslides vary across the USA. Federal and state agencies currently issue warnings of the potential for shallow, rapidly moving landslides and debris flows in a few areas along the Pacific coast and for areas affected by Atlantic hurricanes. However, these agencies generally lack resources needed to provide continuous support or to expand services to other areas. Precipitation thresholds that form the basis of landslide warning systems now exist for a few areas of the USA, but the threshold rainfall amounts and durations vary over three orders of magnitude nationwide and over an order of magnitude across small geographic areas such as a county. Antecedent moisture conditions also have a significant effect, particularly in areas that have distinct wet and dry seasons. Early warnings of shallow landslides that include specific information about affected areas, probability of landslide occurrence, and expected timing are technically feasible as illustrated by a case study from the Seattle, WA area. The four-level warning scheme (Null, Outlook, Watch, Warning) defined for Seattle is based on observed or predicted exceedance of a cumulative precipitation threshold and a rainfall intensity–duration threshold combined with real-time monitoring of soil moisture. Based on analysis of historical data, threshold performance varies according to precipitation characteristics, and threshold exceedance corresponds to a given probability of landslide occurrence. Experience in Seattle during December 2004 and January 2005 illustrates some of the challenges of providing landslide early warning on the USA West Coast.

Publication Year 2010
Title Early warning of rainfall-induced shallow landslides and debris flows in the USA
DOI 10.1007/s10346-009-0177-0
Authors Rex L. Baum, Jonathan W. Godt
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Landslides
Index ID 70200656
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center