Threat of California superstorm increases

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.