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Three people are missing after a mudslide in Mesa County that is estimated to be 250 feet deep in many places. / KUSA

The search for the three men feared dead in a massive western Colorado landslide last weekend was called off early Wednesday, as authorities feared the search could trigger yet another slide.

This is at least the second deadly landslide in the USA this year, following the catastrophic mudslide that killed 41 people in Washington state in March.

How unusual are these killer landslides, and is there a connection between our changing climate and landslides?

Landslides occur in all 50 states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and cause $1 billion to $2 billion in damage and more than 25 deaths each year, on average.

Many of the deaths, according to geologist Lynn Highland of the U.S.G.S. National Landslide Information Center in Golden, Colo., occur one at a time after a rockfall and are not widespread events that kill many people at a time.

The U.S.G.S., in conjunction with the National Weather Service, issues landslide warnings as part of storm and flood warnings.

As for a connection to global warming, heavy rainfall is one trigger of landslides, and climate change is forecast to increase rain and flooding in some areas of the world, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report earlier this year.

However, "while there is a strong theoretical basis for increased landslide activity as a result of predicted climate change, there remains a high level of uncertainty resulting from the margins of error inherent in ... global climate predictions," according to a 2010 study by geographer Michael Crozier in the journal Geomorphology.

"Changes resulting from human activity are seen as a factor of equal, if not greater, importance than climate change in affecting ...landslides," he noted.

But there could still be more direct connections in some specific locations, such as landslide-prone Washington state: "If the climate changes in a way that we get a lot more rainfall, you would expect to see a lot more landslides," Dave Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington, told the website EarthFix earlier this year.

The March mudslide near Oso, Wash., was due in part to extremely heavy rain in the weeks prior to the slide.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Are landslides on the rise?

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