Frequent heavy rains have made California a landslide hotspot


This story is basically Appeared on Inside Climate News and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Imagine the minute hand at about 8 o'clock on the hour. This is the slope of Viet's backyard in southern Los Angeles County. It's a little more aggressive for slip-and-slides. In fact, Viet doesn't even let his 7-year-old daughter play in the family's small courtyard.

“I don't want her to fall down that hill,” he said.

When Viet and his wife bought their home on a hill five years ago, it was a triumph, their piece of the “Hollywood Riviera,” as real estate agents like to call the area. (Viet, a self-employed marketer in his forties, requested that his last name not be used to protect his family's privacy.)

The road to Viet runs horizontally up a steep slope that begins at the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a marvel of steep cliffs and Mediterranean-style homes on the southern hook of Santa Monica Bay. If you look carefully, it could be the terraced hills of Tuscany or, in fact, an extension of the Côte d'Azur. The address was a solid investment and home insurance was not an issue, even though parts of the peninsula have been known to shift shapes, tear up roads and knock homes off their foundations. But not every day. The family enjoyed some easy SoCal years with its spectacular scenery and mild, dry climate.

“Whenever it rained, we would be happy: 'We are no longer in severe drought, yes!'” Viet said. “But after that, whenever it rains, I get scared.”

“It” was the atmospheric river storm that hit LA with a one-two punch (first, a blow, second, a wallop) in the first week of February. California's typical winter rainy season has been exacerbated this year by a parade of such storms. Again this week, Santa Barbara, Ventura and LA counties are in the midst of high volume, cracked roads, flash flooding, climate-amplified rain caused by warm temperatures off the Pacific Ocean. Typhoons are causing an unusual amount of high-profile damage, putting everyone, especially Vietnam, at risk.

After early rains began on February 1, they noticed that the top of their backyard's slope, which was covered with a hand-high succulent plant called “snow plant”, was looking strange. A piece of wet soil seemed to be slipping from its place. He asked a gardener to try to fix it. That was Friday. Then on Sunday, February 3, monster rain cells arrived.

“The whole night, I could hear loud noises on the roof, the wind blowing sideways,” he said. “It was annoying, so when I woke up at 7:30, the first thing I did was look at the storm drains and make sure everything was OK.”

Viet walked around his house wearing sneakers because he had no reason to buy rain boots.

“I walked into the backyard, looked down, and I was like, 'Ohhh myyyyy goooooud.'”

Down his hill a 40-foot-wide river of mud, rock, and roots was flowing at full flow, already blocking the town road 70 feet below, where Viet stood, somehow safe, on the rock.