More rain in the forecast will likely mean more landslides in East Tennessee, according to an expert on earth behavior. 

Dr. Robert Hatcher, a Distinguished Scientist at the University of Tennessee and Emeritus Professor of Geology, has spent more than 50 years in the field. 

Hatcher explained a direct relationship between mountains, rain, and landslides.

A landslide, a mud or debris flow, is dependent on certain conditions, such as a steep area and a trigger, like rain.

“On the plateau to the west of us, where you have these deep canyons, where you have these slopes that go up into the plateau and in the mountains here, but also here in the valley. We have had landslides off of Clinch Mountain and other places as well.” Often times, he explained, a slide is nature’s way of regulating itself.

When a slop is undercut for a road or home, Hatcher says it oversteepened a slop and it “tends to want to readjust itself to a state of equilibrium and that sometimes caused landslides.” 

His biggest piece of advice as rain continues to fall throughout our region is to stay alert.

“If you see small pieces of rock coming off of a slope then get out of the way. There may be larger material coming down soon,” Hatcher added. 

He said road crews and engineers prepare and plan for these events throughout the year. They’re even able to remedy the risks by removing the rock, installing rock bolts, building benches to break the fall of rocks onto roads, build retaining walls and drains. 

Interestingly, Hatcher said the slides closing our roads are relatively small.

“I could take you to Gatlinburg and show you landslides that have moved for miles off the tops of mountains. They’re ancient things,” he said.