Mudslide safety and triggers
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) - In a mountain state like Colorado, the winters can be harsh with snowfall; in the summer, we can get mudslides. The most common mudslide area in the state is the one that occurs in Glenwood Canyon. In July 2020, a devastating mudslide wreaked havoc in Glenwood Canyon, shutting down the highway for weeks. Unfortunately, most mudslides occur during the monsoon season here in the state.
Mudslides occur when the ground acts like a waxy substance from burn scars or has reached its ground infiltration capacity and becomes known as hydrophobic. When heavy rainfall occurs, the excess water can create runoff and carry debris. In Colorado, our mountainous region’s scars, like the Grizzly Creek Burn Scar, can take burned trees and limbs down the mountainside. In addition, it can create a fast-moving current as it picks up other sediments along the way to the canyon floor, giving it a murky appearance.
However, in Colorado, water racing down the mountainside can give it speed enough to flow over onto the interstate, with debris moving quickly and creating structural damage.
As part of safety precautions due to possibly mudslide activity, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) has safety protocols for Glenwood Canyon. Still, these protocols can be different depending on the area.
“If there is rain in the forecast, there is a good chance that we are going to close the recreation path and rest. If there is a flash flood watch in effect, we are definitely closing the recreation path and rest areas. If there is a flash flood warning in effect, we are not only making sure that the rest areas and rec paths are closed, and we are also closing I-70 between exit 116 at Glenwood Springs and 133 at Dotsero.,” said Elise Thatcher, CDOT Communication Manager.
However, if you get caught up in an active mudslide, the best practice is to stay in your car, turn around if possible and leave the area. If evacuating the area, especially on canyon floors, be prepared for more mudslide activities.
The best safety practices before hitting the road are to check the forecast ahead of time; CDOT recommends either visiting COTRIP.org or downloading the CDOT app on your mobile phone and preparing for an alternate route.
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