GIS analysis at 30-m resolution reveals that effectiveness of slope-destabilizing processes in the San Francisco Bay area varies with compass direction. Nearly half the soil slip/debris flows mapped after the catastrophic rainstorm of 3-5 January 1982 occurred on slopes that face S to WSW, whereas fewer than one-quarter have a northerly aspect. Azimuthal analysis of hillside properties for susceptible terrain near the city of Oakland suggests that the skewed aspect of these landslides primarily reflects vegetation type, ridge and valley alignment, and storm-wind direction. Bedrock geology, soil expansivity, and terrain height and gradient also were influential but less so; the role of surface curvature is not wholly resolved. Normalising soil-slip aspect by that of the region's NNW-striking topography shifts the modal azimuth of soil-slip aspect from SW to SE, the direction of origin of winds during the 1982 storm-but opposite that of the prevailing WNW winds. Wind from a constant direction increases rainfall on windward slopes while diminishing it on leeward slopes, generating a modelled difference in hydrologically effective rainfall of up to 2:1 on steep hillsides in the Oakland area. This contrast is consistent with numerical simulations of wind-driven rain and with rainfall thresholds for debris-flow activity. We conclude that storm winds from the SE in January 1982 raised the vulnerability of the Bay region's many S-facing hillsides, most of which are covered in shallow-rooted shrub and grass that offer minimal resistance to soil slip. Wind-driven rainfall also appears to have controlled debris-flow location in a major 1998 storm and probably others. Incorporating this overlooked influence into GIS models of debris-flow likelihood would improve predictions of the hazard in central California and elsewhere.
Additional publication details
Soil slip/debris flow localized by site attributes and wind-driven rain in the San Francisco Bay region storm of January 1982