Southern California's Deadly Mud Flows Seen from Space by NASA

Sean Breslin
Published: January 12, 2018

Images from space show the differences in terrain from Nov. 23, 2017 to Jan. 10, 2018.

NASA has released a pair of images that show the scope of disaster from the Thomas Fire and Tuesday's mudslides in Montecito, California.

The animated image, seen above, shows the landscape before it was altered by the two disasters. In the first image, taken Nov. 23, 2017, the hills north of Montecito have vegetation, and streams are flowing normally.

But in the second image, captured Wednesday after the mudslides swept homes off their foundations and killed more than a dozen people, the impacts of both the wildfire and the flooding can clearly be seen. The hills are charred and brown, and the streams that carry water to the ocean are swollen.

(MORE: Latest News from the Mudslide Aftermath)

The Thomas Fire, sparked Dec. 4 in Santa Barbara County, scorched the land and burned away vegetation as it quickly grew to become the largest wildfire in modern California history. By the time it was fully contained earlier this week, it had destroyed more than 440 square miles of land and was responsible for the deaths of two people.

With no vegetation to hold back the land, Tuesday's heavy rainfall triggered mudslides and debris flows that rushed into neighborhoods and overtook houses. Hundreds of homes were either damaged or destroyed and several people remain missing.

The images used to compare the scene before and after the two disasters were captured by NASA's Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8, according to NASA.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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