Last Saturday night, a mountainside gave way along Highway 1, a mile or so down the road from the hamlet of Gorda on the southern end of the Big Sur coast.
You can say lots of things about the landslide (depicted above in before-and-after satellite images from San Francisco's Planet Labs): That it was vast, sending millions of tons of rock, soil and mud down the mountain, across the precariously situated roadway and into the Pacific Ocean. That it's historic -- almost certainly the largest since a giant slide near the entrance to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park in March 1983 closed the coast highway for 13 months. That it's going to take a long, long time -- Caltrans says at least a year -- before this stretch of Highway 1 is clear again.
One thing you can't say, though, is that the monster slide was a complete surprise. Weather and history both foretold something big happening along Highway 1 -- perhaps close to Gorda.
Rain fell long and hard on the slide area at Mud Creek and the mountains above it, with some highland locations getting as much as 117 inches from last October through early April. Caltrans engineers say that springs and seeps that came to life near Mud Creek saturated the mountainside and started several separate slides, occasionally closing the highway, before the entire slope collapsed last weekend.