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Open-File Report 97–027
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Temperature, Snowmelt, and the Onset of Spring Season Landslides in the Central Rocky Mountains

By Alan F. Chleborad

thumbnail of Figure 1 in report: index map of Colorado and Wyoming

Snow meltwater (snowmelt) that seeps into the subsurface is a major factor contributing to the development of landslides during the spring in mountainous areas of the Rocky Mountain region. An examination of historical temperature data in relation to spring season landslide occurrences reveals an association between the landslide events and intervals of rising temperatures that accelerate the production of snow meltwater. Historical climatic data recorded at local weather stations located near the landslide sites are used to show the association and to identify a temperature threshold that may be useful for forecasting the onset of spring season landslides. Historical daily temperature maximums and minimums for unmonitored landslide sites are estimated by applying an elevation correction factor to historical temperature data from nearby weather stations. The proposed temperature threshold (a 6-day moving average of daily maximum temperature of 58° F) is defined by the number and temporal distribution of snowmelt related landslide events. The results of the study suggest that real-time temperature data recorded at weather stations throughout the Rocky Mountain region is potentially a valuable source of information that may be useful for forecasting the onset of spring season landslides.

Version 1.0

Posted October 2005

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