Did global warming cause the mudslides in Southern California?

On Tuesday, January 9th, mudslides devastated parts of Southern California, specifically in and around the Montecito area. As of today, January 10th, 15 people have been killed and more than 160 people have been injured. Sadly, many more are still missing, and the death toll is expected to rise. After a year of unpredictable weather and devastating storms all over the world, many can’t help but wonder: Did global warming cause the mudslides in Montecito?

The answer to that question is more complicated than a simple yes or no. These particular mudslides were caused by a storm that unleashed a deluge of rain on the area after months of dry weather. Mudslides happen when a large amount of water collects over a short period of time, causing the erosion of soil on a steep, previously dry slope. In this case, the storm caused flash flooding, which is what triggered the mudslides. (And note: Mudslides aren’t necessarily only made up of mud — they can also be comprised of debris, like trees and boulders, making them even more hazardous.)

These particular mudslides were made worse by the recent wildfires in the area. Soil that is “fire-scarred” is even more susceptible to mudslides because the earth can’t absorb water well, and soil erodes more easily when there aren’t any shrubs or bushes.

Basically, the mudslides were caused in large part by the wildfires…so we then must ask: What caused the fires?

The 2017 wildfires were some of the worst Southern California have ever seen, but scientist aren’t entirely sure if climate change was the leading cause. In fact, according to one report, many believe the fires were largely caused by where humans happened to have built homes and structures.

However, it’s also been said that climate change was behind the powerful Santa Ana winds that helped the fires spread. And scientists definitely agree that climate change contributed to the droughts that led to dry conditions in the first place.

Basically, while climate change isn’t necessarily the only cause of the California wildfires and subsequent mudslides, it likely is a contributing factor.

We’re sending our thoughts to every single person affected by the recent disaster, and we’re thanking all of the emergency relief workers tirelessly working to find those who are still missing.