, 4, pp. 289-305.Copyright © 2008 by Bellwether Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved. DOI: 10.2747/0272-36126.96.36.1999
CLIMATOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON THE RAINFALLCHARACTERISTICS ASSOCIATED WITH LANDSLIDES INWESTERN NORTH CAROLINA
Christopher M. Fuhrmann, Charles E. Konrad II,
Lawrence E. Band
Department of GeographyThe University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel Hill, North Carolina 27599-3220
Landslides are a significant hazard in the mountains of North Carolina.While previous studies have estimated the critical instantaneous rainfall rates that maytrigger a landslide, very little is known about the climatology of rainfall events associatedwith landslides. The rainfall climatology of a sample of landslide events in western NorthCarolina from 1950 to 2004 is presented in two parts. First, the two-day concurrent andcumulative antecedent (from 4 to 90 days prior to slope movement) rainfall totals areassessed climatologically by ranking them relative to all heavy precipitation eventsobserved in western North Carolina over a 55-year period. Second, the storm typesresponsible for the rainfall associated with each landslide event are determined using amanual weather map classification scheme. Forty-seven percent (47%) of the landslideevents are connected with concurrent rainfall totals that exceed a one-year return period.In almost half of these cases, the heavy rainfall is associated with a tropical cyclone pass-ing through the region. The other major storm types connected with landslide events (i.e.,synoptic and cyclonic-type events) generally display lower rainfall intensities and longerdurations compared to tropical cyclones. Landslide activity shows the strongest relation-ship with antecedent precipitation totals over a 90-day period, which is the longest timeperiod examined in the study. In many cases, a tropical cyclone produced heavy rainfallover the landslide location between 30 and 90 days before the event. [Key words: land-slide, heavy rainfall, storm types, climatology, western North Carolina.]
INTRODUCTIONLandslides are a significant hazard in mountainous regions. In western NorthCarolina, a region situated in the southern chain of the Appalachian Mountains (Fig.1), over 1000 landslides (i.e., slope movements) have been recorded since the early1900s (Wooten et al., 2007). Across the southern Appalachians, more than 200fatalities and thousands of acres of destroyed forest and farmland have resulted fromlandslide activity (Wieczorek et al., 2004; Witt, 2005). A combination of thin soils,steep slopes, and orographically enhanced precipitation leaves the mountains of North Carolina highly susceptible to slope failure (Witt, 2005). Further, increaseddevelopment along mountain slopes continues to place additional stress on soilsand roots while changing the natural slope configuration through practices such asundercutting and excavation. Landslides are also a potential hazard to those livingin the flat debris fans located above the floodplain, as slope movement along thenearby hillslopes is more likely to “reactivate” during periods of heavy rainfall(Ritter et al., 2002).