Scientists Warn California Could Be Struck By Winter ‘Superstorm’

This was the title of an article written by Liz Goodwin for the Associated Press a few days ago.  (see below)  When I saw the exciting news, I couldn’t contain myself.  Superstorm?  Here in California?  I had to read more.

The article quickly deflated my hopes for anything apocalyptic with phrases like  ‘hypothetical,’ ‘could, but not likely’ or ‘every 40 billion years.’  Okay so maybe not the last bit, but the point was the same; adding a superstorm to our list of things to worry about is right up there with Jurassic Park and giant anacondas in the plumbing.  Could, but not likely.

One of my favorite movies is the one about the crazy folks who follow tornadoes.  There’s a show on the Discovery Channel called ‘Destroyed in Seconds,’ which follows adrenaline junkie storm watchers.  Seems like I’m not the only one who has a morbid fascination with destruction and the weather.  Here’s a clip that makes my toes curl / makes me wish I were there watching: 

Scientists warn California could be struck by winter ‘superstorm’

By Liz Goodwin

A group of more than 100 scientists and experts say in a new report that California faces the risk of a massive “superstorm” that could flood a quarter of the state’s homes and cause $300 billion to $400 billion in damage. Researchers point out that the potential scale of destruction in this storm scenario is four or five times the amount of damage that could be wrought by a major earthquake.

It sounds like the plot of an apocalyptic action movie, but scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey warned federal and state emergency officials that California’s geological history shows such “superstorms” have happened in the past, and should be added to the long list of natural disasters to worry about in the Golden State.

The threat of a cataclysmic California storm has been dormant for the past 150 years. Geological Survey director Marcia K. McNutt told the New York Times that a 300-mile stretch of the Central Valley was inundated from 1861-62. The floods were so bad that the state capital had to be moved to San Francisco, and Governor Leland Stanford had to take a rowboat to his own inauguration, the report notes. Even larger storms happened in past centuries, over the dates 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605, according to geological evidence.

The risk is gathering momentum now, scientists say, due to rising temperatures in the atmosphere, which has generally made weather patterns more volatile.

The scientists built a model that showed a storm could last for more than 40 days and dump 10 feet of water on the state. The storm would be goaded on by an “atmospheric river” that would move water “at the same rate as 50 Mississippis discharging water into the Gulf of Mexico,” according to the AP. Winds could reach 125 miles per hour, and landslides could compound the damage, the report notes.

Such a superstorm is hypothetical but not improbable, climate researchers warn. “We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes,” Geological Survey scientist Lucy Jones said in a press release.

Federal and state emergency management officials convened a conference about emergency preparations for possible superstorms last week. You can read the whole report here.


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