Stephen Ellison

USGS Developing a Mudslide Early Warning System

With mudslides having such a widespread impact in the storm-battered Bay Area, scientists with the U.S. Geological Society are working on warning system for drivers and residents in saturated areas.

Last weekend's storm produced muddy messes on Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Highway 1 in Pacifica, closing lanes and snarling traffic.

Similar scenes with mudslides played out in the East Bay and North Bay, where homes were affected.

The USGS, which is known for monitoring earthquakes, is working on an landslide alert system that could warn people about unsteady soil.

Dr. Corina Cerovski-Darriou says the agency is collecting data with pisometers, which would alert scientists when too much water is building up between the bedrock and the soil, the hallmark of an imminent landslide. They would then turn that data over to the National Weather Service.

"You need to soil to be wet," Cerovski-Darriou said. "So, sufficient moisture ahead of time, and then you need a big storm."

There are four landslide measuring stations in the Bay Area: one in Marin, one in the East Bay and two on the Peninsula. All have been placed in former landslide zones.

After landslides like this one in Niles Canyon that took crews of bulldozers to clear and the one on Interstate 80 in the Sierra, scientists say they hope more measuring sites will be planned.

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