The Thistle, Utah, Slide of 1983

There will always be natural disasters that happen all around the world for as long as people can remember. Some happen in the United States, while others happen in maybe places we have never heard of. Either way, many people hope that it will never happen to them or their friends or family. It can be something that destroys family and leaves people in financial hardship. Some places seldomly and seemingly never have natural disasters. These types of places are especially unprepared because they have not been through frequent disasters. One of these disasters was in 1983 at around eight thirty p.m. in the state of Utah. It is a natural disaster that will live in the United States history for one of the biggest landslides. Not only was the land slide massive in size, but it was one of the costliest disasters in US history. In 1983 dollars, the damage exceeded 200 million dollars. Below you can see the accumulation zone outlined in yellow, which created a natural dam.

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Althought the landslide was very large and caused so much damage, it was not especially fast. The slide reached a top speed of three and a half feet per hour. This was not a small slide by any means; it was able to reach a thousand feet in width and about two hundred in thickness and just over a mile in length! (as seen in Figure 1) Not only did this slide damage the Thistle lake and surrounding area, it also stopped railroad service from Salt Lake to Denver and even flooded out three major highways. The main cause for this slide was that there were record breaking rainfall in Utah during the fall, which was followed by a deep winter snow pack. After the heavy rain and snow falls, the Spring temperature rapidly melted the snow, which set the stage for the Thistle landslide of 1983. The landslide "reached 1000 feet in width, nearly 200 feet in thickness, and over one mile in length. The lower end of the slide formed a 220-foot-high dam where it abutted against a sandstone cliff at the base of Billies Mountain" (Source 1). A massive lake was a result of the slide. Thistle Lake was just over 5km long and 60m deep, and posed a flooding hazard to downstream communities. The threat was eliminated only after the lake was drained by tunneling through one of the canyon walls. This tunneling would continue to serve as mitigation for future events. Combined direct and indirect costs from the Thistle landslide exceeded about $400 million, making it the most expensive single landslide in U.S. history. Not only did it devastate the town of Thistle, it was also the first Presidential disaster declaration for Utah. It is recorded to be the most expensive landslide to date in the United States at an estimated two hundred million dollars. With the lost of the railway and the flooded highway, Thistle had to relocate both in order to keep up with the demand that was based on each.
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Figure 1: Aerial view of the Thistle Landslide in 1983

Utah is known as being a desert state, and might actually be the second driest state in the United States. Not only do they have major landslides, they have also been recorded for having major avalanches in the winter and earthquakes at anytime during the year. As one may not know, the reason they are able to experience the earthquakes is because there are many fault lines that run through the state. They also experience major rain fall during the fall seasons which can also lead to major flooding.

Thistle Utah Slide 1983


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Remains of City Hall after the Thistle slide.
The town of Thistle Utah disappeared under water in 1983, when part of the mountain slid down the hill and blocked the river. The landslide made an earthen dam that completely covered submerged the town. The residents of Thistle lost everything and the town was a complete loss. Later, a break was made in the land slide to drain the lake, but the town could not be restored due to fear of another slide.
The town was in demand because previous to the event it as a stop on the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. It was the major income for the area and it would rise and fall due to the success of the railroad. The railroad was closed for months and Highway 6 was closed for almost a year due to the flood. The road were moved through the Billies Mountain in the north and two rest stops pay tribute o those whose lost everything. Theres many warning signs about mudslides, that we need to recognize. For example your home if your doors or windows stick or jam for the first time. Also with new cracks appear in plaster, tile, brick or other foundations. Basically if you live in an area prone to landslides be aware of your property. It's always better to be safe than sorry, so plan for evacuation plans for your family. Plan at least two different evacuation plans since roads may become blocked or closed. Also if family members are separated from one another during a landsilde or mudflow have a plan for getting back together. These are just some plans for certain people that live in areas that are at risk to these's natrual disaters.

Not only did the landslide devastate the surrounding area but it left a financial dent, “The Thistle landslide caused total estimated capital losses of $48 million and revenue losses of $87 million, plus associated losses in tax revenues. Direct cost of Thistle tally over $200 million, including relocating the railroad at a cost of $45 million, relocating the highway at a cost of $75 million, and lost revenue to the railroad of $1 million per day(which totaled $80 million, including $19 million in charges that the D&RGW paid the Union Pacific to use their rail lines)”( Atwood ).As much as the dangerous conditions of this area are obviously prevalent to today people are ignorant towards this fact, an article states, “Many people hoped ‘Thistle Lake’ could remain and become another water recreation and fishing site. However experts determined that the dam was unstable and would probably fail someday and flood the towns between it and Utah Lake" (Venita). Nature is nothing to mess with, yet people tend to ignore thet fact that nature can be destructive like in the case of the Thistle slide, and most importantly to note is that it can continuously be destructive in the same geographical area.

A landslide prone area such as the area of Thistle Lake is due to the ground being saturated by wet winters landslides have continued in the area since 1983. Not only did the landslide devastate the surrounding area but it left a financial dent,
“The Thistle landslide caused total estimated capital losses of $48 million and revenue losses of $87 million, plus associated losses in tax revenues. Direct cost of Thistle tally over $200 million, including relocating the railroad at a cost of $45 million, relocating the highway at a cost of $75 million, and lost revenue to the railroad of $1 million per day(which totaled $80 million, including $19 million in charges that the D&RGW paid the Union Pacific to use their rail lines)”(
Atwood ).
As much as the dangerous conditions of this area are obviously prevalent to today people are ignorant towards this fact, an article states, “Many people hoped ‘Thistle Lake’ could remain and become another water recreation and fishing site. However experts determined that the dam was unstable and would probably fail someday and flood the towns between it and Utah Lake" (Venita). Nature is nothing to mess with, yet people tend to ignore thet fact that nature can be destructive like in the case of the Thistle slide, and most importantly to note is that it can continuously be destructive in the same geographical area. The slide continues to accumulate even to this day.












http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Thistle,_Utah

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Sources:
http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/geosights/thistle.htm
http://www.trainweb.org/utahrails/locales/thistle.html
http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/g/GEOGRAPHY.html
http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/geosights/images/thistle9.jpg&imgrefurl=http://geology.utah.gov/surveynotes/geosights/thistle.htm&usg=__FWdFhLEzgGb9_MAuXIzahMyWXWI=&h=187&w=300&sz=12&hl=en&start=7&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=8WLWHXGg-YmuVM:&tbnh=72&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dthe%2Bthistle%2Butah%2Blandslide%26hl%3Den%26um%3D1
Venita. "My Views of Utah Thistle Mother Nature Built a Dam." 7 Dec. 2008. <http://homepage.mac.com/venitar/Utah/wThistle/Thistle.html>.
Atwood, Genevieve. "Thistle." Utah History Encyclopedia. 10 Dec. 1008. <http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/t/THISTLE.html>.
Wagner,F. Hol Jr. "When Thistle Vanished." UtahRails.net. 12 Mar 2010. Web. <http://utahrails.net/drgw/thistle-vanished.php>.