Geology experts in Washington and Oregon have produced an
easy-to-read brochure that can help people understand landslide
risks, the underlying geology of slides and precautions that could
avoid a disaster.
I have written a lot of words about landslides through the
years, often relating stories of people involved in a catastrophic
slope failures. But this new publication excels as a concise
discussion of what people need to know if they live on or near a
After the Oso landslide in the Stillaguamish Valley three years
ago, I wrote a piece in the
Kitsap Sun to help residents of the Kitsap Peninsula understand
the risks they could be facing. Now I can point people to this
graphically rich pamphlet, called
“A Homeowners Guide to Landslides for Washington and Oregon” (PDF,
3.8 mb). It was produced by the Washington Department of
Natural Resources and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral
“Our job is to understand Washington’s complex geology and how
it impacts the people who live here,” Washington State Geologist
Dave Norman said in a
news release. “We want to make sure we put that information
into their hands.”
Water is often the key ingredient in determining whether the
soils on a slope will hold together or become a dangerous mass of
moving earth. A cubic foot of water — just 7.5 gallons — weighs
62.3 pounds. Water not only weighs down a slope, it also pushes the
grains of soil apart, making for a more slippery material.
To prevent water from increasing the risk of slides:
Maintain healthy vegetation,
Use drought-resistant plantings,
Fix leaking plumbing immediately,
Direct downspout runoff well away from slopes, and
Plant trees and shrubs, which uptake water more efficiently
Actions that people should avoid are mostly related to water and
the pressures exerted from piling up dirt. The publication advises
Adding water to steep slopes,
Placing fill soil on or near steep slopes,
Placing yard waste or debris on steep slopes, and
Excavating on or at the base of steep slopes.
An appropriation by the Washington Legislature in 2015 allowed
DNR to extend its hazard mapping with the use of high-resolution
lidar. See the Washington
Lidar Portal for locations where high-res imaging has been
applied, or learn more about
LIDAR and the mapping project.
I’ve been going through the new report about climate change in
the Puget Sound region, and I can tell you that the most optimistic
chapter is the one on farming. Check out the story I wrote for the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
To be sure, farmers will have plenty of problems to contend
with. Rising sea levels and more intense rainstorms will probably
causing flooding and seawater intrusion where it has never been
seen before. Some of today’s farmland could become unsuitable for
agriculture, and drier summers will force much better management of
limited water supplies.
But as the climate undergoes change, farmers can change with the
climate, growing crops suitable for the conditions they face, said
Kelly McLain, senior natural resources scientist with the
Washington Department of Agriculture.
“Farmers are extremely adaptable,” Kelly told me. “I think water
is going to be the limiting factor for almost all decisions.”
My third and final story in the series, which will be published
next week, talks about coming changes in habitats — and thus
species — expected in Puget Sound as air temperatures increase, sea
levels rise, rainstorms grow more intense and oceans undergo
I took on this writing project as part of my work for the Puget
Sound Institute, which publishes the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
PSI commissioned the climate report with funding from federal and
state governments. The Climate Impacts Group at the University of
Washington compiled the best scientific knowledge into a very
readable report, which can be found on the encyclopedia’s
website or on the website of the Climate
One interesting chapter of the report, called
“How is Puget Sound’s Climate Changing?” (3 mb) supports the
understanding that climate change is not something we need to wait
for. It’s something that scientists can measure now, although
climatologists expect the changes to come faster as atmospheric
carbon dioxide levels increase.
Here are a few of the changes that can be measured, along with a
bit of explanation about the uncertainty:
Average air temperatures have been increasing in the Puget
Sound lowlands and are currently about 1.3 degrees higher than in
1895. Higher temperatures have been found to be statistically
significant for all seasons except spring, with the overall
increase shown in a range between 0.7 to 1.9 degrees F.
Nighttime air temperatures have been rising faster than daytime
temperatures. Nighttime lows have been increasing by about 1.8
degrees since 1895, while daytime highs have been increasing by
about 0.8 degrees.
The frost-free season has lengthened by about 30 days (range
18-41 days) since 1920.
As in other areas, short-term trends can differ substantially
from long-term trends. Cooling observed from 2000-2011, for
example, has not altered the long-term temperature increase.
An ongoing debate questions how much, if any, of the long-term
warming trend is a result of natural climate variability. One study
says up to 80 percent may be natural, caused by atmospheric
circulation, not by greenhouse gas buildup. Other researchers have
been unable to replicate the findings for other data sets.
Total annual precipitation does not appear to be increasing or
decreasing over a long time scale. Spring precipitation has
increased at a statistically valid 27 percent for the months March
Most studies are finding modest increases in the frequency and
intensity of heavy precipitation compared to historical levels, but
results depend on the time period and methods of analysis.
Ongoing variability in weather patterns related to El Nino and
the Pacific decadal oscillation will continue to strongly influence
temperature and precipitation for relatively short periods. It is
not clear how long-term climate change will interact with these
more variable climate patterns.
As the new report describes, increased flooding, more frequent
landslides and decreased salmon runs are likely, along with
declines in some native species and increases in others. We are
likely to see more successful invasions by nonnative species, while
summer drought could cause more insect damage to forests and more
“When you look at the projected changes, it’s dramatic,” said
lead author Guillaume Mauger in a
news release. “This report provides a single resource for
people to look at what’s coming and think about how to adapt.”
The report includes examples of communities taking actions to
prepare for climate change, such as merging flood-management
districts to prepare for increased flooding in King County and
designing infrastructure to contend with rising sea levels in other
“In the same way that the science is very different from the
last report in 2005, I think the capacity and willingness to work
on climate change is in a completely different place,” Mauger
Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound
Partnership, said the people of Puget Sound must be prepared for
changes that have already begun.
“To protect Puget Sound, we need to plan for the ever-increasing
impacts of climate change,” she said in a
news release. “This report helps us better understand the very
real pressures we will face over the coming decades. The effects of
climate change impact every part of what we consider necessary for
a healthy Puget Sound: clean water, abundant water quantity, human
wellbeing, and a Puget Sound habitat that can support our native
Work to compile the report was funded by the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency via the Puget Sound Institute at UW Tacoma, the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of
The report will become part of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound,
where my climate-change stories will reside after publication over
the next three weeks. I’m currently working part-time for the Puget
Sound Institute, which publishes the encyclopedia and is affiliated
with the University of Washington — Tacoma.
For other news stories about the report, check out:
I am still baffled, as are the folks at the University of
Washington’s Seismology Lab, why people freaked out over the
earthquake article, titled “The Really Big One,” published this
month in New
Could it be that Northwest residents were unaware or had
forgotten about the risk of earthquakes in this area until a
national magazine called attention to the problem?
Was it the lack of credible details about earthquake risks in
the original article, which included this quote from an
emergency-management official: “Our operating assumption is that
everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
Or maybe it was the rapid spread of information via social media
and the huge number people living in other parts of the country who
texted, tweeted and inundated Facebook with worries about their
relatives in the Pacific Northwest.
“I don’t really know what it was,” said Bill Steele, my longtime
contact at the UW’s Seismology Lab. “We are a bit baffled by it.
There is nothing really new.”
Although the author, Kathryn Schultz, left out specifics about
which areas might be affected more than others, she did tell a
compelling — and fairly accurate — story about what could happen
when the North America plate breaks free of the Juan de Fuca plate,
which is sliding underneath it.
I was pleased to see that she came back this week with a
follow-up article describing where the greatest shaking would
occur and which areas would be at greatest risk from a tsunami
unleashed by slippage along the Cascadia subduction zone. She also
suggests steps that people can take to protect themselves and their
property — something I have always felt is a mandatory part of any
story I write about earthquakes. Review a webpage put together by the
I’ve been very fortunate to have worked as a news reporter
during a time when many important discoveries were made in
Northwest seismology. I accompanied researchers digging in swamps,
riverbanks and man-made trenches, where they found traces of
ancient earthquakes. That work and much more comprises a body of
evidence across many disciplines that helps us understand how bad
our “big one” could be.
In 1999, I paused from covering individual discoveries about
earthquakes to write a story for the Kitsap Sun focusing on a few
of the researchers and their key findings. We called the story
“Finding Fault: 13 Years of Discoveries.”
I can’t begin to recount all the stories I’ve written about
earthquakes through the years, but I do recall warning people a few
years ago to get prepared after the massive Japanese earthquake
made headlines across the the globe (Kitsap
Sun, March 11, 2011):
“While Japan struggles to recover from one of the greatest
earthquakes in world history, West Coast seismologists are warning
that a quake just like it could occur at any time off the
Washington and Oregon coasts.
“In broad-brush terms, ‘the two earthquakes are very similar,’
said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph
Network at the University of Washington. ‘As a first guess, what
might happen here is what happened there.’
Of course, we have had our own earthquakes that should give us
plenty of reason to get prepared. The 6.8-magnitude Nisqually
earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001, occurred in the Puget Sound region and
served as a powerful wakeup call for many people.
The Nisqually quake was called the “miracle quake” because
nobody was killed, although one man died from a heart attack that
could have been related to the event. About 400 people were injured
and damage estimates ranged up to $4 billion. (U.S.
In the Puget Sound region, the shaking from the Nisqually quake
could be something like area residents will experience in a
Cascadia subduction-zone quake, though shaking from a subduction
quake is expected to last longer, depending on how much of the
plate breaks free. Things will not be the same in all places, and
communities closest to the Olympic Mountains might experience the
most damage from a subduction quake.
Five years after the Nisqually quake, Phyllis Mann, who was
director of Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management at the
time, was still wondering why many people were not prepared for an
earthquake in Kitsap County.
“Kitsap has never depended on the federal government as part of
its plan,” Phyllis told me in a
Kitsap Sun story published Feb. 28, 2006. “The federal
government can’t be with us the day of the disaster. With the
exception of the military, which is part of our community, you
can’t count on the feds early on.”
Mann used our interview to direct pointed questions at Kitsap
“Why aren’t you ready? What is it going to take? We keep asking
this question and finding out that people aren’t prepared. Where is
your food and water for three days? (A week is the latest
recommendation.) Where are your reunion plans? Is it my
responsibility as the county emergency manager to make sure
everyone does it?”
The New Yorker article failed to mention an earthquake threat
that should be of equal concern to residents of the Puget Sound
area. You may have heard of the Seattle fault, which runs from
Seattle across Bainbridge Island and Central Kitsap to Hood
Although the frequency of huge earthquakes on the Seattle fault
appear to be less than those along the Cascadia subduction zone, we
must not forget that a quake on the Seattle fault about 1,100 years
ago lifted up the south end of Bainbridge Island by 21 feet and
created a tsunami that inundated shorelines now occupied by people.
By contrast, a tsunami coming from the ocean after a subduction
quake might raise the water level quickly in Puget Sound but
probably no higher than what we see with daily tides.
In a way, the Seattle fault put the Kitsap Peninsula on the map
with a red bull’s-eye, which I wrote about five years ago. See
Kitsap Sun, May 8, 2010, along with the map on this page.
Bill Steele told me that he is sure that Kenneth Murphy,
regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
regrets saying, “Our operating assumption is that everything west
of Interstate 5 will be toast.” That may be a good “operating
assumption” for an agency trying to plan for the worse possible
emergency, but it is not a very good description of what
seismologists predict by modeling various scenarios.
Bill said many people failed to read the New Yorker article
carefully and took the comment to mean that most of Western
Washington would be hit with a 50-foot wall of water — something
that could not be further from the truth.
“The good news for us is that we have a pretty good 10,000-year
history of what happened on the fault,” Bill said. “We know how the
shaking will be distributed.” Again, look at the hazard map on this
page and note the strip of red along the coast.
While many earthquake experts are surprised by the reaction to
the New Yorker article, it has accomplished one goal of those who
understand the risks: getting people to create earthquake kits,
secure homes on their foundations and other things that could help
prevent damage and get people through the emergency.
“You have to take your hat off to the author,” Bill told me,
“because she got a lot of people thinking. It is not like the New
Yorker has that many subscriptions.”
Emergency managers may be studying the cascading events
triggered by the New Yorker article, including the initial
publication, the ripples running through social media and the
public alarm that rose up and eventually died down.
Directing public concern into action is what folks like Bill
Steele and others are doing right now. Check out the video in the
player below for Bill’s appearance on “New Day Northwest,” and
visit the webpage of the Pacific
Northwest Seismic Network for basic information and scheduled
discussions about earthquake risks. One public forum is scheduled
for Tuesday at the University of Oregon, and
other forums are under consideration at the UW.
For this week, let’s call it “Amazing Monday.” When I first saw
this video, I thought it was a fake animation for a science fiction
film. But it turns out that it could be the answer to a troubling
riddle: What is dryer than a desert?
The crack might also be the result of erosion from either an
underground or surface channel following an unusually heavy rain.
Despite the attention in Mexican and U.S. news outlets, I have been
unable to find a good explanation.
The crack is said to be about three-fourths mile long and up to
25 feet deep. Some nice close-in photos were posted on the website
a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. They show people standing
next to the giant fissure. (When watching the video, it’s worth
blowing it up to full screen.)
In a Washington Post story last week, reporter
Joshua Partlow quoted a geologist at the University of Sonora as
saying the crack was probably caused by pumping groundwater for
“The chair of the geology department at the University of
Sonora, in the northern Mexican state where this ‘topographic
accident’ emerged, said that the fissure was likely caused by
sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface
“‘This is no cause for alarm,’ Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza
Maldonado said. ‘These are normal manifestations of the
destabilization of the ground.’”
I think the geologist’s comments were meant to quell fear and
speculation that started running wild when the crack first opened.
While it may not be cause for alarm, I can’t believe that a crack
this size — which has cut off more than one roadway — can be
considered a good thing. Nevertheless, it is fascinating, and I’d
like to learn more about it.
A dramatic video that shows Japan’s March 12 tsunami from ground
level has received a lot of attention on YouTube, probably because
of its shock value. Our hearts go out to the Japanese people.
Meanwhile, I believe this video can offer important insights for
those of us who live or visit ocean communities on the West Coast,
such as Ocean Shores.
How much time would we have to get to higher ground after an
earthquake? The video shows the water level rising rapidly, as the
photographer goes up a stairway to get to higher ground. At the end
of the video, six minutes in, the serenity of the street has been
turned into chaos.
While I worry about coastal communities, where a tsunami is a
likely threat, I’m also concerned about waterfront residents and
visitors along the Puget Sound shoreline. Although the chance of a
tsunami in Puget Sound may be less than on the coast, one could be
triggered by an earthquake on the numerous faults
that run through the sound, including the Seattle, Tacoma and
South Whidbey faults. Earthquakes also may cause massive landslides
that can create big waves when hitting the water.
With the weather we’ve had the past couple days, it’s hard to
forget the gusher of water coming down upon our heads and changing
the landscape in familiar places.
Of course, we can’t live without rain — especially if we wish to
remain The Evergreen State — but sometimes a little less of it
would do us well.
With our rampaging weather in mind, I’ve selected 20 quotes from
a variety of sources who apparently have given some thought to the
subject of rain.
1. A visit is like rainwater. You pray for it when it stays
away, and it’s a problem when it rains too much. — Hebrew
2. A rainy day is the perfect time for a walk in the woods. —
3. Rain, rain, go away, come again another day. —
4. I’m just waiting for people to start asking me to make the
rain disappear. — David Copperfield
5. Sunshine is delicious; rain is refreshing; wind braces us up;
snow is exhilarating. There is really no such thing as bad weather,
only different kinds of good weather. — John Ruskin
6. A poet is someone who stands outside in the rain hoping to be
struck by lightning. — James Dickey
7. And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down.
Without the rain, there would be no rainbow. — Jerry
8. Into each life some rain must fall. — Henry Wadsworth
9. Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with
silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. —
10. All was silent as before, all silent save the dripping rain.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
11. He who marries on a rainy day will be happy for the rest of
his life. — French Proverb
12. A rose must remain with the sun and the rain or its lovely
promise won’t come true. — Ray Evans
13. Anyone who says sunshine brings happiness has never danced
in the rain. — Author unknown
14. Those who profess to favour freedom, and deprecate
agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground,
they want rain without thunder and lightning. — Frederick
15. Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a
man’s growth without destroying his roots. — Frank A.
16. Giving advice to the ignorant is like the rain falling on
muddy ground. — Iranian Proverb
17. A banker is a man who lends you an umbrella when the weather
is fair, and takes it away from you when it rains. — Author
18. Remember even though the outside world might be raining, if
you keep on smiling the sun will soon show its face and smile back
at you. — Anna Lee
19. The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up
with the rain. When I’m inspired, I get excited because I can’t
wait to see what I’ll come up with next. Find out who you are and
do it on purpose. — Dolly Parton
20. I can see clearly now; the rain is gone. I can see all
obstacles in my way.
— Johnny Nash
The Kitsap Peninsula largely escaped the onslaught of rains on
Wednesday, thank to the “rain shadow” effect of the Olympic
Mountains. See Brynn Grimley’s story in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.
The rain shield eventually broke down as the storm direction
changed, and we got hit pretty good yesterday. But the scattered
flooding and mudslides didn’t come close to what we saw in December
The biggest problem in this area was Highway 166 between Port
Orchard and Gorst, where perennial mudslides disrupt the normal
traffic flow. See Travis Baker’s story in
today’s Kitsap Sun.
As for other areas of the state, it’s worth noting that the
Sun’s Web editor, Angela Dice, and other newspaper Web editors used
some relatively new online tools — including Twitter and Publish2 —
to keep people updated about the weather. If you logged onto the
Sun’s weather coverage, you would have access to a growing list of
links about weather events taking place all over the state.
This flood of information was made possible through a
collaboration of online journalists and others who believe that
getting information out to people is more important than
old-fashioned competition, which used to dominate the news
business. It’s actually one of the few bright spots in an shrinking
industry where news coverage suffers amid the evaporation of
The story of this week’s collaboration was featured today in the
“Publishing 2,” which reports on developments regarding an
online system that helps connect journalists together. The author
of the piece, Josh Korr, calls this week’s effort a “quiet
revolution” in which “four journalists spontaneously launched one
of the first experiments in collaborative (or networked) link
journalism to cover a major local story.”
For the average reader, this new approach means that newspaper
Web sites become richer with breaking news. You could use the
Kitsap Sun, for example, to figure out which roads were blocked at
any one time pretty much anywhere in the state.
Want to be even more current with events? Go to the search engine on Twitter and
type in “#waflood.” You’ll see a twittering of reporters, highway
engineers and other people tweeting about the latest developments
on the roads and rivers.
Construction of a new boardwalk from downtown Bremerton to
Evergreen Park is supported by more than a few people, as evidenced
by letters sent to the Army Corps of Engineers. But most of the
letter writers don’t tackle the thorny environmental issues
involved with the overwater structure and its significant impacts
on fish habitat.
On the other hand, state and federal agencies and the
environmental group People for Puget Sound have raised many more
issues than I could cover in
Sunday’s Kitsap Sun story.
I would like anybody interested to be able to read the agency
letters I’ve seen, so I’m posting them here for you to download.
Some agencies, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and
Washington Department of Ecology, are involved directly in
permitting, so they have chosen not to comment at this time.
The economics of Olympic National Forest has been turned upside
The forest was once the wood basket of the Northwest, generating
enough money from the sale of massive fir and cedar trees to build
roads, trails and campgrounds — and more roads. The forest
generated enough money to support a large staff of foresters and
forest rangers and have money left over to support other
Over the years, experts have come to realize that natural
systems were often ignored in the effort to get the wood out. And
this isn’t just the view of tree-huggers and spotted-owl
Farmers and residents in the Skokomish River Valley have paid
the price of too much logging and road-building in the upper
watershed. Shellfish-growers and others who depend on natural
resources have suffered, along with fish and wildlife best suited
to old-growth conditions.
And so the economics has turned. Now, much of the logging
involves commercially thinning second-growth forests to restore
old-growth conditions at a faster pace. Under new stewardship
programs, the money can be used to decommission roads that are
still sending massive amounts of soil and gravel downstream into
the Skokomish River and other waterways. Congress is now putting
money back into the forest for ecosystem recovery rather than
taking money out.
There is a lot more to this story than I was able to tell in
today’s Kitsap Sun. It’s a story I’ll be telling for a long
time to come.