Alpine debris flows triggered by a 28 July 1999 thunderstorm in the central Front Range, Colorado


DOI: 10.1016/j.geomorph.2006.07.009



On 28 July 1999, about 480 alpine debris flows were triggered by an afternoon thunderstorm along the Continental Divide in Clear Creek and Summit counties in the central Front Range of Colorado. The thunderstorm produced about 43??mm of rain in 4??h, 35??mm of which fell in the first 2??h. Several debris flows triggered by the storm impacted Interstate Highway 70, U.S. Highway 6, and the Arapahoe Basin ski area. We mapped the debris flows from color aerial photography and inspected many of them in the field. Three processes initiated debris flows. The first process initiated 11% of the debris flows and involved the mobilization of shallow landslides in thick, often well vegetated, colluvium. The second process, which was responsible for 79% of the flows, was the transport of material eroded from steep unvegetated hillslopes via a system of coalescing rills. The third, which has been termed the "firehose effect," initiated 10% of the debris flows and occurred where overland flow became concentrated in steep bedrock channels and scoured debris from talus deposits and the heads of debris fans. These three processes initiated high on steep hillsides (> 30??) in catchments with small contributing areas (< 8000??m2), however, shallow landslides occurred on slopes that were significantly less steep than either overland flow process. Based on field observations and examination of soils mapping of the northern part of the study area, we identified a relation between the degree of soil development and the process type that generated debris flows. In general, areas with greater soil development were less likely to generate runoff and therefore less likely to generate debris flows by the firehose effect or by rilling. The character of the surficial cover and the spatially variable hydrologic response to intense rainfall, rather than a threshold of contributing area and topographic slope, appears to control the initiation process in the high alpine of the Front Range. Because debris flows initiated by rilling and the firehose effect tend to increase in volume as they travel downslope, these debris flows are potentially more hazardous than those initiated by shallow landslides, which tend to deposit material along their paths. ?? 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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Alpine debris flows triggered by a 28 July 1999 thunderstorm in the central Front Range, Colorado
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