Thistle Landslide: Utah’s first declared major disaster, 40 years later

Apr 14, 2023, 12:17 PM | Updated: 12:17 pm

40 year anniversary Utah...

Spanish Fork River and area of Thistle Mudslide. Photo: USGS

SALT LAKE CITY — April 14, 2023, marks the 40-year anniversary of the first Presidential Major Disaster Declaration in Utah — one also caused by serious snowfall: the Thistle landslide. 

The small town of Thistle was destroyed in 1983 when the record-breaking snowpack quickly melted out of Spanish Fork Canyon, resulting in a landslide of mud and flood waters that took out everything.

That landslide caused over $200 million dollars in damage and left the community of Thistle homeless. 

According to Utah.gov, Utah has experienced 15 declarations of major disasters. Ten of which, are floods, one being COVID-19.

Contextually, according to Utah.Gov, the slide was brewing in 1982. It began with record-breaking precipitation in the fall, followed by a deep winter snow pack, then lastly,  warm spring temperatures.

“Rapid snowmelt in 1983 set the stage for the Thistle landslide. Once triggered, the slide reached a maximum speed of 3.5 feet per hour and dammed the Spanish Fork River within a few days,” wrote Utah.gov. 

Residents evacuated to Birdseye with whatever they could take in a hurry. 

Some structures are still visible today, peeking out above the water that ultimately destroyed the town. 

The landslide remains visible from the side of U.S. 6.  


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Thistle Landslide: Utah’s first declared major disaster, 40 years later