Landslide of the Week – Racehorse Creek Landslide

June 23, 2009

Each week we will feature a new landslide in Washington State. Washington State is covered with dynamic and sometimes quirky landslides.

Racehorse Creek Landslide, Whatcom County

On January 6th, 2009, a Pineapple Express (actually to have formed off of Hawai’i) flowed into Washington State, hitting the northern counties first and moving into the southern counties. Whatcom and Skagit Counties were first to report landslides late on January 6th as warm rains melted away snow and thawed the ground. As the rain continued, a small rain on snow type event occurred, spawning over 1,500 landslides. Debris flows and debris avalanches were the most common landslide to have formed from the storm event and the majority of the landslides occurred on the flanks of the Cascade Mountain Range.

January 2009 storm map with an incomplete landslide inventory

January 2009 storm map with an incomplete landslide inventory

This map shows the storm intensity overlain with landslide initiation points, primarily from DNR/DGER aerial surveys after the storm and reported landslides from public and private folks.

One of the largest landslides during the January 7-9th storm occurred along Racehorse Creek in Whatcom County.

Racehorse Creek Landslide; DNR/DGER Photo

Racehorse Creek Landslide; DNR/DGER Photo

The landslide occurred in two major components, the main debris avalanche and near lateral debris flows. The main debris avalanche is over 160,000 square yards and moved a significant amount of trees into Racehorse Creek. The debris flows scoured into the ground, removing timber in its way, also reaching Racehorse Creek. Once in the swollen waters of Racehorse Creek, the moved debris moved downstream, forming a massive logjam.

Logjam formed by the Racehorse Landslide, looking towards Kendall Creek; DNR/DGER Photo

Logjam formed by the Racehorse Landslide, looking towards Kendall Creek; DNR/DGER Photo

Logjam formed by the Racehorse Landslide, looking towards Racehorse Creek; DNR/DGER Photo

Logjam formed by the Racehorse Landslide, looking towards Racehorse Creek; DNR/DGER Photo

The size of the landslide has caused many to scratch their heads as to what possibly might have triggered this landslide. Some point to an earthquake as a possible trigger (one did occur on January 6th, 2009), others, natural factors of erosion and saturation. Or, as is common, a combination of saturated ground, erosion of the toe and a bit of shaking from an earthquake.

Whatcom County Earthquake Map; DNR/DGER

Whatcom County Earthquake Map; DNR/DGER

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One Response to “Landslide of the Week – Racehorse Creek Landslide”

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