Ignoring the scientists, part 2

We’re not doing anything about slow, steady climate change, and we’re also not dealing with acute, local environmental risks, like the recent Washington mudslide.

The Snohomish County officials who control land use permits asserted last week that there was no way of knowing a giant mudslide would ever happen there.

In fact, the area was primed for just such an extraordinary event, according to geologist Daniel J. Miller, who twice surveyed the area for local Native American tribes who rely on the river’s health for fishing and for the Army Corps of Engineers. He wrote in his 1999 report that the Hazel Landslide, as the mountain is known, was constantly shifting, experiencing landslides and would one day suffer “a catastrophic failure.”

“This landslide moves every year when it gets wet, and pieces fall off,” said Miller, a consultant in Seattle, in a telephone interview Friday.

It was a nightmare waiting to happen.

An ancient glacier is jutting out of the mountain, making its flat plateau unstable, Miller said. The Stillaguamish River was eroding it from below. Rows of conifer trees that helped to mitigate erosion by sucking water through their roots and releasing it into the atmosphere were chopped down by loggers. Rain fell on the bald spots they left, drenching dirt and sand, making the mountain even more precarious.

March 2014 has been a ­record-breaker, the wettest in Seattle’s history.

Miller realized his warning was not heeded when he visited the site following a major landslide in 2006 that did not do nearly as much harm. He could not believe what he saw.

“There was new construction,” he said. “The sound of hammering competed with the sound of [destabilized] trees snapping after the mudslide. I can’t believe that someone wanted to build their home there. It was a very bad idea.”

Damn warmists and catastrophists — they keep hurting the economy, like homebuilding, with these warnings that the mountainsides have been made unstable by melting glaciers, logging, and heavy rains.

But don’t you worry. People will keep working along, because they’ve got Someone to tell them everything will be OK.

We’re a little logging community, she said. There are so many missing, so many dead. We definitely feel God protected us. My neighbor’s house is gone. My husband’s out there digging for bodies.

Thank God that God especially loved a few people so that they can dig for the corpses of those other people he really hated.

That woman, I hope, has read that article and had a moment of awareness in which she realized what a stupid thing she said. But nah, it won’t happen.


  1. says

    “We definitely feel God protected us.”

    By not including you in His act of mass murder?

    Never mind the fact that geologists have been predicting exactly this catastrophe for at least 20 years. Scientists are all bunch of atheists and God-haters anyway; what do they know?

  2. fernando says

    If even after the warnings about the dangers of that zone, state oficials, allowed or promoted construction on the zone of the disaster, certainly the oficials can be prosecuted by criminal negligence?

    Of course that will not return the life to the victims of the disaster, but could prevent more deaths in the future, making people pay more atention to what scientists say about this kind of things and not to put always money and votes ahead of the public safety.

  3. Sastra says

    Fortunately, the Onion has just released details on a report which reveals that the leading cause of death in the U.S. is God needing another angel.

    Poor woman. She doesn’t get to be an angel yet. She must have more work to do.

  4. TxSkeptic says

    God just made the landslide to spite those damned atheist scientists by proving them right … wait… what?

  5. raven says

    The logging wasn’t a good idea.

    Quite often these slopes fail after they log the trees. Because the trees stabilize the slopes by sending down huge numbers of roots, deep into the ground and perpendicular to the surface.

    This is well known. I’ve yet to hear that it ever stopped anyone from logging a steep slope.

  6. raven says

    Christian Science Monitor:

    Landslides have followed logging in that area at least four times, KUOW reported.

    “There was cutting in the 1940s; it failed in the ’50s. There was cutting in 1960, then it failed in the mid-’60s. There was cutting in ’88; it failed in ’91. There was cutting in 2005, and it failed in 2006 and in 2014,” said geomorphologist Paul Kennard, who worked for the Tulalip Tribes in the 1980s and now works for the National Park Service at Mt. Rainier.

    “This had been known at least since the ’50s as one of the more problematic areas on the Stillaguamish for perennial landsliding,” Mr. Kennard said.

    This whole area has a history of logging followed by landslides. It was going to slide again, the only question being…exactly where. Now we know where.

  7. says

    “Thank God that God especially loved a few people so that they can dig for the corpses of those other people he really hated.”
    Sounds similar to,
    For god so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, so that he will blab about being a son of god and get beaten to pulp and thrown on a stick to dry in the sun.

    On a serious note, there are two issues here. (a) the people are ignorant and greedy, (b) the government officials and lawmakers are stupid. Just because the view is good (As per feng shui, the burial site must have a good view). One cannot build or permitted to build a home on a glacier, on a volcanic crater rim, along side a river (even if it will only flood once in 100 years), in the oxbow of a river, in a forest (even if it does not go up in flames once every couple of years), 20 feet away from the sea… and so on a so forth (next to Sriracha factory). Surveyors and government planners must be quick to designate habitable areas with a foresight. In the name of free economy, that planning and designation should not be left to the insurance companies. The assumption that capitalistic economy will automatically make things go the right way is not true. Why? Because humans are not as intelligent as the vast majority of the animals on earth (and even some plants).

  8. says

    I am with Fernando #3 on this. The impact of the landslide on people largely could’ve been avoided if development was sited elsewhere. There has to be some consequence for ignoring the warnings via a scientific impact report. Argh! And to allow tree harvesting in the area on top of this is terrible negligence.

  9. mikeconley says

    Interesting that the quoted geologists both worked for the Native American tribes. That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that their reports were ignored, I’m sure.

  10. AsqJames says

    So apart from all the previous collapses and several scientific reports there was no way anyone could have known this particular cliff was unstable.

    …the Hazel Landslide, as the mountain is known,…


  11. madscientist says

    Ah, but a certain Abbott sez that loggers are conservationists! Oh, I miss the Reagan years – they were a sign of things to come. Anyone remember Art Buchwald and his piece on selling the Whitehouse rose garden? Good ol’ Ronnie was a visionary …

    I think a large part of the problem is that cities (indeed entire nations) are now generally run by imbeciles and sycophants who are only interested in looking after themselves and couldn’t care less about society in general. Anyone remember all those subdivisions built on garbage dumps through the 1980s and later (and the occasional house that went *kablooie*)? Allowing building on a landslip area just isn’t surprising anymore. All over Australia I see new subdivisions going up in what are extremely obvious flood plains. I suspect god’s going to have an awful lot to laugh about in the next few decades. In the meantime I think I’ll buy an expensive house near the airport and under one of the busiest flight paths so I can whine about the noise…

  12. twas brillig (stevem) says

    We definitely feel God protected us.

    At least she said “feel”, not “know”, nor “We Thank God …” I understand how emotions distort people’s expressions. I lament, though, that survivors of catastrophic events will let their emotions overrule their intellects, and thank the “mysterious” God-thing instead of (or in addition to) all the people that helped them; and will only blame people and never the God-thing for bad events [Pat Robertson *will* blame God for tornadoes and earthquakes, etc, but will give Him “bad people” as the “cause” of His retribution ;-( ]. Currently being dominated by emotions myself ;-(

  13. says

    “OMFG NO ONE COULD HAVE KNOWN” = the new and improved last refuge of scoundrels.

    See e.g. 9/11, antibiotic resistance, Iraqi WMD…etc., ad nauseam.

  14. Trebuchet says

    Ignoring known hazards for profit is a well-established thing. This is only a minor example. Right here in the same state, we still have homes being built on the lahar plain in Orting. It’s not a question of IF the whole area will be covered with steaming mud, just when. Very expensive houses are also being built on bluffs all around Puget Sound. Every winter a few of them fall into the sea.

    Of course, you also have the entire Los Angeles basin and tornado alley. How far do you go?

    I’m eagerly awaiting a full post by Dana Hunter on the subject!

  15. cuervocuero says

    The logging community itself is relying on their employers/source of greatest local income not to do them dirt…literally.

    It’s a faint hope when the environmtental regulations around timber profits are uhm…lobbied down to where they can be drowned in a mudslide.

    I cut people slack for popping out consolatory nonsense amid disaster and death. They’re in PTSD shock and relying on secondary heuristics to get them through the system crash.

    The ‘deity spared us’ sounds like a very human effort to get some control on the horrific while trying very hard not to think beyond the moment, especially when the back of the mind might already be totting up the very real human greed responsible for the situation and waiting to step in with a crisis of faith in Faith and authoritarian leadership.

    Some people won’t be able to face it and will assiduously keep ‘not thinking’. Others will be forced into that ‘evil in the world’ factor that brings a lot of people out of the Faith stasis.

    Personally, I’d not worry about their religious standing if they were motivated and empowered to go after the corporate ‘persons’ who didn’t care that this logging environmental disaster could and would wipe out a few lives, so long as the bottom line got filled. But, given that ‘Noah’ is being roundly reviled as Satanic environmentalism, I’m not holding my breath.

    The indigenous communities around Turtle Mountain in British Columbia knew the ‘shaking’ mountain was no place to build a settlement but were ignored by the mining companies setting up. The Frank slide in the 1900s proved the original locals correct but it’s always a terrible “I told you so”.

  16. says

    We–llll tornado ally isn’t always predictable. I mean i grew up in the southern tip, and can on one hand the number of times i actually had to shelter from a storm. That said, i don’t understand why all homes/apartments/etc aren’t required to have tornado shelters built in every unit. Dumbest place i ever lived had an external wall in every room, so sheltering consisted of crossing your fingers.

  17. Lofty says

    No-one who believes in the power of the free market could have possibly predicted this.

  18. bryanfeir says

    There’s a reason why, after Hurricane Hazel and the resulting flooding in 1954, much of the previously residential-use land along the Humber River was actively expropriated by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and turned into parkland, to prevent anybody from being stupid enough to build there again. The developers and a number of the surviving residents howled at the time, but the city managed to make it stick.

    A lot of said parkland is also deliberately set below water level to act as flood sinks.

    It is possible to do things about this, but it requires political will that doesn’t exist in a lot of places. (Including Toronto anymore, unfortunately.)

  19. Dick the Damned says

    Bryan, that brought back memories. My Hydraulic Engineering prof was responsible for the design of the TO flood relief system. A good man.

  20. nich says

    Drown six kittens and you’re a monster. Drown five kittens and spare the sixth and you’re merciful.

  21. nich says

    *who am I kidding? If I were a god, I’d be considered merciful because I didn’t drown seven.

  22. mickll says

    The place was called the Hazel Landslide, local authorities were warned it was unstable in 1999 but handed out building permits anyway?



    *shakes head, walks away*

  23. says

    Every developer who put housing there and every official involved in letting them should be facing homicide charges (Negligent homicide is probably the strongest that could be made to stick, although I think there’s a moral case for considering it premeditated murder) for every person who died in this. They won’t, and it’s probably not even possible to charge them with such under the law as it stands, but it damn well should be.

  24. says

    I suppose somewhat OT, but about politicians at all levels of government ignoring the obvious science:

    I still very well remember the big slurp of cola that went spewing out my nose when Shrub II said that nobody expected the New Orleans levees to fail during Katrina. You see, by coincidence, I had finished John McPhee’s Control of Nature about a month prior. It’s a pretty old book, but just as, if not more so, apt today as it was when written. (Besides, when John McPhee writes about something, there’s pretty much no reason for anyone to write about that thing again. ;-) )

    In the same book, Prof. McPhee also writes about the frequent San Gabriel mountains debris flows and mud-slides. The geology and proximate causes are different, but the story is the same.

  25. militantagnostic says


    Turtle Mountain in British Columbia

    Turtle Mountain and the Frank Slide are in Alberta.

    A couple of days after this landslide happened I went looking to see if it was predicted by geologists (expecting the answer would be yes). Same thing happened with the flooding in Southern Alberta – I heard an interview with an Environmental Engineering Prof from California who said that the amount of water being stored in the Bow Valley had been increasing for the past 5 years. A few years before that flood Cougar Creek in Canmore had chewed up the pathway between it and the backyards of the houses next to it. This time it chewed us the foundations of the houses.

  26. raven says


    Same thing with the NYC flooding after Sandy.

    I read an Army Core of Engineers report on it. Very detailed.

    It was however, written several years before the hurricane actually happened. They knew it was just a matter of time. They now know it is a matter of time before it happens again.

    when Shrub II said that nobody expected the New Orleans levees to fail during Katrina.

    Huge numbers of people knew. New Orleans real estate has been and is cheap. No one wants to sink a lot of money into something likely to end up under water. Even I knew, having seen several articles in passing that much of NO was below sea level.

    The number of things Bush didn’t know doesn’t tell anyone much. He knows far less than the average person. WMD in Iraq, how long the war would take, what it would accomplish and on and on.

  27. mildlymagnificent says

    All over Australia I see new subdivisions going up in what are extremely obvious flood plains.

    Not even very new. Every now and again we have localised flooding in the suburbs between Adelaide and the sea along the Torrens “River”. People complain that it’s the third time in five years!!!!

    All the suburbs in question are built on land reclaimed from a large area formerly known as “Reedbeds”. Most of them were established with a fair setback from the “river”, but more and more houses have been built closer and closer during the last 40 years. Presumably because they were a bit cheaper than other areas. There’s a reason why they’re cheaper.

  28. robro says

    A coldness washes over…

    From the Ppppfff: “Active earth movement at the Hazel Landslide dates back to at least 1937[4]” That citation is a 1998 study in Hydrological Processes. There’s more details on the geology further down including a very graphic map of Holocene slides in the valley. It suggests that the Oso slide is not unusual and not very big in comparison to some of the older ones.

  29. chrislawson says

    Here on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, the developers have largely kept away from the flood plains — but I can see the signs already given that old sugar cane farms along the Maroochy River are on sale for millions of dollars for <100 acre blocks. The only way to make money on that is to develop it for residential use and most of these properties are right on the flood plain. Meanwhile, the safer properties up the hill are a lot cheaper…because they're not riverfront.

  30. microraptor says

    Interesting that the quoted geologists both worked for the Native American tribes. That couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that their reports were ignored, I’m sure.

    Probably not. People have a strong tendency to ignore those kinds of reports regardless of whether they’re filed with the local tribes, or the county or state governments.

    I also recall hearing right after this slide that one of the missing/dead individuals was the leader of some sort of group that was trying to secede from Snohomish County over the right to build where ever they wanted to. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but maybe someone here has heard more about that rumor.

  31. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    A woman I work with, her brother was one who helped save several people during the mudslide. His house was lost. He is being lauded a hero, as he should be, but a tiny part of me is feeling “wtf you built on an unstable cleared mountainside!!!” Seeing just how far back the warnings go just makes me ill.

  32. NitricAcid says

    Okay….that link I just posted has a “Tip the Author” bit after the story. Since the author’s been dead a hundred years, I’d advise you to spend your money elsewhere….