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22 May 2023

Lidar highlights impressive landslide density on the southern Appalachian Blue Ridge Escarpment, western North Carolina

With a high quality (0.5-meter resolution) lidar dataset, it’s hard to examine much of the Blue Ridge Escarpment without seeing a few landslide features. Some slopes have more than others, however, and I think the McDowell County slope shown below probably has the greatest density of slides I have seen in the last 3 years of mapping. The most likely explanation is an extreme precipitation event. This area was heavily impacted in both 1916 and 1940 by extreme rainfall events, and the clustering of slides and their lack of damage to mid-20th century road grades would fit a connection to either of the storms nicely. These McDowell County slopes also resemble slopes in the headwaters of the Moorman’s River west of Charlottesville, Virginia, which experienced numerous slides due to an exceptional thunderstorm event in 1995.