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USGS study concludes plausible California megastorm could result in 3x more damage than severe SoCal earthquake

Ark2
Causes of ARkStorm cumulative highway damages. Click to enlarge.

For emergency planning purposes, scientists unveiled a hypothetical California scenario that describes a winter storm sequence that could produce up to 10 feet of rain, cause extensive flooding (in many cases overwhelming the state’s flood-protection system), and result in more than $300 billion in property damage, with total losses from the storm on the order of $725 billion—nearly 3 times the loss deemed to be realistic for a severe southern California earthquake, an event with roughly the same annual occurrence probability.

In addition to the impacts on buildings, agriculture, power generation, telecommunications, waste water treatment and the water supply, the ARkStorm (Atmospheric Rivers 1,000) Scenario produced by the US Geological Survey (USGS), Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) was devastating to the state highway system, with damage occuring from (1) debris flow; (2) flooding, (3) both flooding and erosion, and (4) landsliding. As examples, the authors noted, the storm largely cuts off traffic from Los Angeles to the north and east for 1-2 weeks, with gradual recovery. The same is true of Sacramento: traffic to the north, south, and west is largely cut off for 1 week or so, with gradual recovery thereafter.

Even so, the authors noted, their assessment likely underestimated the impact on highways due to a number of factors. Furthermore, restoration may take longer than anticipated.

Three important limitations of this scenario were recognized during the initial panel discussions. First, these restoration times may underestimate competition for limited resources. Second, these restoration timelines were laid out without full consideration of the needs for evacuation. Third, the landslide assessment for northern California was not available at the time of the panel discussions. New landslide information might affect the assessment of both damage and restoration. Other considerations that were overlooked during the panel discussions also may affect restoration.

—Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario

ARkStorm Meteorology
The historical storms that were the basis for ARkStorm—and most severe precipitation in California—were probably the result of a phenomenon termed “atmospheric rivers”, jets of warm moist air that originate over the mid-latitude north Pacific Ocean and transport that moisture to California where much of the moisture turns to rain and snow that falls on the state.
These atmospheric rivers, the meteorological conditions that produce them, and the resulting precipitation and winds that affect California, can be simulated by using computer models.
Ark1
An Atmospheric River originating over the central Pacific on 16 February 2004. Source: USGS. Click to enlarge.

The ARkStorm team designed a large, scientifically realistic meteorological event followed by an examination of the secondary hazards (for example, landslides and flooding), physical damages to the built environment, and social and economic consequences. The hypothetical storm depicted in the ARkstorm scenario would strike the US West Coast and be similar to the intense California winter storms of 1861 and 1862 that left the central valley of California impassible.

The storm is estimated to produce precipitation that in many places exceeds levels only experienced on average once every 500 to 1,000 years.

The USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency convened the two-day summit to engage stakeholders from across California to take action as a result of the scenario’s findings, which were developed over the last two years by more than 100 scientists and experts.

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. The ARkStorm is essentially two historic storms (January 1969 and February 1986) put back to back in a scientifically plausible way. The model is not an extremely extreme event.

—Lucy Jones, chief scientist of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project and architect of ARkStorm

Jones noted that the largest damages would come from flooding—the models estimate that almost one-fourth of the houses in California would experience some flood damage from this storm.

To define impacts of the ARkStorm, the USGS, in partnership with the California Geological Survey, created the first statewide landslide susceptibility maps for California that are the most detailed landslide susceptibility maps ever created. The project also resulted in the first physics-based coastal storm modeling system for analyzing severe storm impacts (predicting wave height and coastal erosion) under present-day scenarios and under various climate-change and sea-level-rise scenarios.

Key findings of the ARkstorm report are:

  1. Megastorms are California’s other “big one.” A severe California winter storm could realistically flood thousands of square miles of urban and agricultural land, result in thousands of landslides, disrupt lifelines throughout the state for days or weeks, and cost on the order of $725 billion. An event like the ARkStorm could require the evacuation of 1,500,000 people. Because the flood depths in some areas could realistically be on the order of 10-20 feet, without effective evacuation there could be substantial loss of life. These impacts, the authors noted, are not exhaustive.

  2. An ARkStorm would be a statewide disaster. Extensive flooding is deemed realistic in the California Central Valley, San Francisco Bayshore, Los Angeles and Orange Counties, several coastal communities, and various riverine communities around the state.

  3. An ARkStorm could produce an economic catastrophe. Perhaps 25% of buildings in the state could experience some degree of flooding in a single severe storm. That degree of damage would threaten California with a long-term reduction in economic activity, and raise insurance rates statewide—perhaps nationwide or more—afterwards.

  4. An ARkStorm is plausible, perhaps inevitable. Such storms have happened in the California historic record (1861-1862), but 1861-1862 is not a freak event, not the last time the state will experience such a severe storm, and not the worst case. An ARkStorm would be unlike any storm that has occurred in living memory: 6 megastorms that were more severe than 1861-1862 have occurred in California during the last 1800 years, and there is no reason to believe similar storms won’t occur again. There may be no pattern that forces the storms to occur with clockwork regularity, so such an event could occur in any year.

  5. The ARkStorm is to some extent predictable. Unlike earthquakes, for the ARkStorm there exists a capability to partially predict key aspects of the geophysical phenomena that would create damages in the days before the storm strikes. While these predictive systems already have some important capabilities, there could be great benefit in enhancing their accuracy, lead time, and the particular measures they can estimate. This represents a great challenge scientifically and practically. A game-changing attention to this problem is needed, likely of a scope similar to what is currently done for hurricanes and tornadoes.

  6. California flood protection is not designed for an ARkStorm-like event. Much has been done to protect the state from future flooding, but the state flood-protection system is not perfect. The existing systems are designed, among other things, to protect major urban areas from fairly rare, extreme flooding. The level of protection varies: some places are protected from flooding that only occurs on average once every 75 years; others, on average every 200 years. But the levees are not intended to prevent all flooding, such as the 500-year streamflows that are deemed realistic throughout much of the state in ARkStorm.

  7. Planning for ARkStorm would complement planning for earthquakes. The ShakeOut exercise has become an annual activity in California, with more than 6 million people participating each year. Many of the same emergency preparations are useful for a severe winter storm: laying in emergency food and water, shelter preparations, exercising emergency corporate communications, testing mutual aid agreements, and so on.

  8. Those considering flood mitigation should consider ARkStorm. Governments, businesses, public and private utilities, and individuals have the opportunity now to explore the costs and benefits of physical improvements to their infrastructure to reduce future damage.

  9. Hurricane Katrina is a relevant, cautionary experience. Just under 1 year before Katrina, the USACE requested $4 million from Congress for a study on how to protect New Orleans from a category-4 hurricane, which, according to one recent estimate, would have cost on the order of $30 billion. Congress deemed the cost of the study to be too high at the time. The actual storm ultimately cost the federal government in excess of $100 billion, resulted in perhaps $150 billion in total economic loss, and killed 1,800 people. The alarm over the Californian flood-protection systems has already been raised; this study echoes prior ones.

  10. There are many ways in which scientific improvements could help to manage risk from severe winter weather. Several research issues are raised by ARkStorm, such as the need for a statewide—or even nationwide—end-to-end stochastic model of severe weather, physical impacts, and socioeconomic consequences. Researchers identified the need for a convenient way to talk about the size of such a California winter storm; better elevation data and historic landslide maps to improve coastal inundation and landslide models; better asset location data in HSIP Gold to improve the understanding of essential facilities exposed to risk; and various reforms to NFIP.

Resources

Comments

HarveyD

New amplified El Ninas and El Ninos will provoke increase rain falls on both side of the Pacific Ocean. North East Australia has been subjected to it this winter.

People living in low lands and close to mountains with potential land slides should take appropriate steps to protect themselves.

Reel$$

Herb calls Lucy:

Hello Lucy?

Yes?

Lucy, we need some new material out here. We'd like you to work on something we're calling "Megastorms."

What's a Megastorm?

It's what we want you to find some "science" for. A big freakin, huge disaster! Bigger than... than the great floods in the Bible! So big, 1.5M people will be evacuated and damages will run to almost a TRILLION dollars! An epic catastrophe Lucy!!

We don't have any such storms Herb.

Well, damit MAKE ONE! If you want to keep your job Lucy!

(pause) Yes, boss.

Arnold

You would not believe the way these 1 in 100 -150 years floods in NE Australia, and even 'Higher 1 in ever' for SE Aus ie Victoria have panned out.

We are still early in the tropical North rainy season but in the dry seaon for Victoria.

In Quensland and northern NSW the i in 150 year1-200mm per hour flooding rains have swelled cathments the size of France and Germany resulting in inland dryland 'Tsunami/s/ with multi meter walls of water coursing around the state.

These inland tidal waves are coming downtwthousand miles to the south and meeting up with the SE floods.

This is not a prety site unless you happen to be a burly Hawaiin? thrill surfer with a need to traverse the continent on a budget.

My advice : RUN.

Rytooling

It's amazing how little time it takes for scientists to catch on to the funding for alarmism relationship. As has been demonstrated very clearly with climate science and alarmism, practitioners race to outdo each on the biggest, most disastrous scenarios imaginable. They know very well there is plenty of grant money, attention, book deals etc for the loudest voice of doom. Tell me, when is the 18 foot rise in the sea level going to start? Should we have been up a few inches by now?

ai_vin

Tell me, when is the 18 foot rise in the sea level going to start? Should we have been up a few inches by now?

Don't confuse the headline grabbing numbers from the Press with the numbers and time scales the scientists were coming up with; http://www.skepticalscience.com/sea-level-rise-intermediate.htm

Now as far as Megastorms go: I think the 2010 Pakistan floods, which put approximately one-fifth of Pakistan's total land area was underwater, says all we need to know about their possibility but how plausible it is they could happen in California - I don't know.

HarveyD

Reel$$ forgot to look over his shoulders or read the international news for the last 12 months?

HealthyBreeze

At a ski shop I saw a poster of snowfall and maximum height of snow pack for the Lake Tahoe area for the last ~150 years (since the transcontinental railroad went in). What struck me is that a couple times in the last century and a half there was 60 feet of snow in a winter, and the snow pack got up to 20 feet deep. Yosemite Valley was badly flooded a generation ago when a tropical storm came in and melted the snow pack all at once. This scenario may not be so far fetched.

Reel$$

Arnold, ai_vin,

read this and learn about cyclic flooding in Eastern Australia:

http://www.john-daly.com/elnino.htm

Rebranding cyclic climate phenomena with titles like "Meagastorms" is typical of the pure hype that has tanked the AGW campaign. Remarkably immature fear mongering from unenlightened befrods.

ai_vin

So who was John L. Daly(March 31, 1943 – January 29, 2004) and why should anybody believe what he said?

Well, he was an officer in the British Merchant Navy, an Australian teacher and a writer of books. But a scientist he wasn't.

Reel$$

GEE ai_vin, who was:

Michael Faraday
Walter Pitts (MIT)
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Thomas Henry Huxley
Alfred Russel Wallace
Buckminster Fuller
Benjamin Franklin
Socrates
Decarte
Thomas Alva Edison
George Green
Eric Hoffer
thousands of others...

All autodidacts. Do not disregard a man's work without giving it open minded consideration. Else you are simply a narrow minded fool.

ai_vin

I hope you remember you wrote that the next time I quote Al Gore.

ai_vin

Ok these guys;
http://www.youtube.com/user/greenman3610#p/u
http://www.youtube.com/user/potholer54#p/u

Reel$$

The guys I named actually DID something scientific ai_... Al Gore (a pathetic politician) has accomplished NOTHING in science - has he??

AND to your infinite credit, I have never heard you "quote Al Gore."

Please do not start.

ai_vin

For the record I do not disregard John L. Daly's work because he is selftaught. I do so because it has not passed scientific scrutiny.

ai_vin

And you're right Reel,
Michael Faraday
Walter Pitts (MIT)
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Thomas Henry Huxley
Alfred Russel Wallace
Buckminster Fuller
Benjamin Franklin
Socrates
Decarte
Thomas Alva Edison
George Green
Eric Hoffer
thousands of others...actually DID something scientific.
All John L. Daly did was disagree with the American Association for the Advancement of Science;
http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2007/0218am_statement.shtml
and the National Academy of Sciences;
http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ocga/testimony/Global_Climate_Change_Policy_and_Budget_Review.asp

Reel$$

Do a little homework ai_ and you'll find that most of the luminaries I named also disagreed with establishment science. Institutional science also scoffed at Einstein, Tesla, Edison and many many others. Why? New, non-conformist (read non-consensus) scientists are a threat to establishment fiefdoms. Let's take for example Alfred Wegener:

"The fact that his work crossed disciplines exposed him to the territoriality of scientific disciplines. The authorities in the various disciplines attacked him as an interloper that did not fully grasp their own subject. More importantly however, was that even the possibility of Continental Drift was a huge threat to the established authorities in each of the disciplines.

One can't underestimate the effect of a radical new viewpoint on those established in a discipline. The authorities in these fields are authorities because of their knowledge of the current view of their discipline. A radical new view on their discipline could be a threat to their own authority. One of Alfred Wegener's critics, the geologist R. Thomas Chamberlain, could not have summarized this threat any better :

"If we are to believe in Wegener's hypothesis we must forget everything which has been learned in the past 70 years and start all over again."

He was right. As were Galileo and Darwin.

http://www.scientus.org/Wegener-Continental-Drift.html

ai_vin

Do a little homework ai_ and you'll find that most of the luminaries I named also disagreed with establishment science. Institutional science also scoffed at Einstein, Tesla, Edison and many many others.

Yes they did, but only up to a point; http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/socialsideofscience_04 Once their ideas were tested and shown to better explain how things work they were accepted. Scientists are always testing and retesting their theories, even the theory of gravity is still being tested. It's always *possible* John L. Daly and the others are right and the AAAS and NAS are wrong, that's why climate scientist say things like: 'we're 98% confident AGW is happening.' But don't bet on it. It's also *possible* Walter Wright is right about gravity; http://keelynet.com/gravity/wright.htm but to say people like him are "a threat to establishment fiefdoms" is laughable.

"SCIENCE: If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong. If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong. If you can't accept that you're mistaken, you're not doing it at all."

The culture of science does not value dogma. Scrutinizing, questioning, and investigating important ideas helps ensure that only ideas supported by evidence and based on sound reasoning are accepted by the community; http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/socialsideofscience_05

ai_vin

Wegener & Darwin

It's interesting to note that neither Wegener or Darwin had a good mechanism to show how their ideas could work. Without such there actually is no good reason for the scientific community to accept them. The reason Darwin's theory took off while Wegener's did not had more to do with scociety's acceptance then science's.

Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's bulldog, and others pushed Darwin's theory because of their views on religion and class structure. When Darwin's book first hit the stores it was quickly sold out and it was mostly the working class doing the buying, they figured if evolution was true it meant they had a chance to improve their lot in life.

Wegener's theory offered no such preceived benefits.

Reel$$

It's also *possible* Walter Wright is right about gravity; http://keelynet.com/gravity/wright.htm but to say people like him are "a threat to establishment fiefdoms" is laughable.

Obviously Wright has a fringe theory which is to be taken with little seriousness. On the other hand John Daly merely revisits cyclic ocean oscillation work done by "institutional science" e.g. NOAA and Goddard's Aqua Project, confirmed by "scientists" like Dr. Roy Spencer - pointing out the clear coincidence of climate and PDO, SOI cycles. http://tinyurl.com/66uf2f

No ai_, your first reaction was to dismiss John Daly simply because he "was an officer in the British Merchant Navy, an Australian teacher and a writer of books. But a scientist he wasn't." i.e. ad hominum attack rather than to consider the established science Mr.Daly recaps.

While John Daly may not be a threat to the institutional fiefdoms, Spencer, Christi, Lindzen etc. clearly are. And your reaction typifies the reason the public has rejected the AGW thesis. Shouting down, ad hominum attacks, highhanded dismissal of contrarian science - has soured the public mind on the whole enterprise. In the attempt to defend your fiefdoms - you have defeated your own credibility.

ai_vin

Actually Reel now you are finally talking about real scientists: Roy Spencer, John Christi and Lindzen are people who have shown they know the scientific methodology and should be addressed. But even they hedge their bets when questioning AGW.

Spencer says his research suggests that global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution and suggests that natural, chaotic variations in low cloud cover may account for most observed warming.

In a 2003 interview with National Public Radio about the 2003 American Geophysical Union (AGU) statement, John Christi said he is "a strong critic of scientists who make catastrophic predictions of huge increases in global temperatures and tremendous rises in sea levels.". He added, though, that "it is scientifically inconceivable that after changing forests into cities, turning millions of acres into irrigated farmland, putting massive quantities of soot and dust into the air, and putting extra greenhouse gases into the air, that the natural course of climate has not changed in some way."

Richard Lindzen likewise is more concerned with the political pressures on climate scientists to conform to what he has called climate alarmism. He doesn't say Global Warming isn't happening he just thinks it's mostly natural.

In the attempt to defend your fiefdoms - you have defeated your own credibility.

[rolling my eyes here] And now you're just boring me.

ai_vin

BTW at least two of those contrarian scientist were invited to/have worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports so it's not like they were the victims of "institutional science."

"Institutional science" does not expect EVERY scientist to agree with it.
The culture of science does not value dogma. Scrutinizing, questioning, and investigating important ideas helps ensure that only ideas supported by evidence and based on sound reasoning are accepted by the community; http://undsci.berkeley.edu/article/0_0_0/socialsideofscience_05

Reel$$

Thus we have highly trained expert scientists telling us that most climate activity (it changes constantly) is due to natural variation. And YES, it makes perfect sense that man's alteration of landscapes would have some localized effect - witness the urban heat island.

"As far as I can tell, skepticism involves doubts about a plausible proposition. I think current global warming alarm does not represent a plausible proposition." Dr. Richard Lindzen; http://www-eaps.mit.edu/faculty/lindzen.htm

I'll leave it here ai_... Thank you for an enjoyable dialog.

ai_vin

So we agree, we have three highly trained expert scientists telling us that most climate activity is due to natural variation and thousands saying "The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now"; http://www.aaas.org/news/press_room/climate_change/mtg_200702/aaas_climate_statement.pdf

And because you can not accept you are wrong you opted to believe the minority opinion.

"SCIENCE: If you don't make mistakes, you're doing it wrong. If you don't correct those mistakes, you're doing it really wrong. If you can't accept that you're mistaken, you're not doing it at all."

Reel$$

I'll take my three plus the thousands who agree with them to your "thousands".

And there is yet any scientific evidence of AGW.

ai_vin

Reel, do you know why I argue like this with you when everybody can see your mind can't be changed?

It's so everybody CAN see your mind can't be changed, and when you make statements like that you're doing all my work for me. Thank you. You are a textbook example of a denialist.

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