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

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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.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Early warning of rainfall-induced shallow landslides and debris flows in the USA
Series title Landslides
DOI 10.1007/s10346-009-0177-0
Volume 7
Issue 3
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 259
Last page 272
Country United States
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