Monster storm triggered hundreds of mudslides across LA. Why do they happen?

Summer Lin, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES — Steven Golightly woke up Monday morning and walked down his street in Beverly Crest to find a mudslide had entombed two of his neighbor's cars.

The 71-year-old, who lives on North Beverly Drive, had spotted a social media post online about the mudslide but wanted to see it in person.

"It was a mess," he said. "I can't imagine waking up to that being in my home."

Thousands of Southern Californians confronted similar scenes this week, as the monster storm that hammered Southern California triggered hundreds of mudslides across the region. The city of Los Angeles alone saw 562 mudslides and 15 homes red-tagged as of Wednesday evening, according to Mayor Karen Bass' office.

"Our hillsides are already saturated. So even not-very-heavy rains could still lead to additional mudslides," Bass said during a news conference. "Even when the rain stops, the ground may continue to shift."

The main ingredients required for a mudslide are heavy storm and a steep and relatively bare slope. The risk goes up when the ground has been softened before the storm by a recent rainfall, and as Bass noted, it doesn't end when the rain stops.


Huge mudslides were reported Wednesday between Bowmont and Skyline drives, closing down stretches of Mulholland Drive for repairs. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said that crews moved a power pole in the affected area to a different location on the hillside during the repairs.

Not surprisingly, the areas most prone to mudslides are those on or near hillsides, especially those charred by wildfires in recent years that have little vegetation to hold the soil in place, the California Department of Conservation says. The agency says that burnt soil and vegetation on the slopes more than doubles the rate that water runs off, raising the risk of slides.

A debris flow is a faster, more dangerous form of mudslide that can carry entire trees, rocks, cars or sandbags.

In 2018, a debris flow in Montecito, near Santa Barbara, destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and killed 23 people.


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