Relentless storms from a series of atmospheric rivers have saturated the steep mountains and bald hillsides scarred from wildfires along much of California’s long coastline, causing hundreds of landslides this month.
So far the debris has mostly blocked roads and highways and has not harmed communities as in 2018 when mudslides roared through Montecito, killing 23 people and wiping out 130 homes.
But more rain is in the forecast, increasing the threat.
Experts say California has learned important lessons from the Montecito tragedy, and has more tools to pinpoint the hot spots and more basins and nets are in place to capture the falling debris before it hits homes. The recent storms are putting those efforts to the test as climate change produces more severe weather.
California has relatively young mountains from a geology standpoint, meaning much of its steep terrain is still in motion and covered in loose rocks and soil that can be sloughed off easily, especially when the ground is wet, according to geologists.
Almost all of the state has received rainfall totals of 400% to 600% above average since Christmas, with some areas receiving as much as 30 inches of precipitation, causing massive flooding. The severe weather has killed at least 19 people since late December.