A potential “superstorm” could dump up to 10 feet of rain on California in a catastrophic flood, scientists and emergency planners predict.
Federal and California officials on Friday discussed the plausible consequences of such a storm, using advanced flood mapping and atmospheric projections with data from California’s historic storms.
A research team of over 100 scientists said in a scenario released by the U.S. Geological Survey this week that California faces the risk of massive floods caused by an “atmospheric river” (AR) of moisture flowing into the state.
The report estimates that the flooding would last up to 40 days, affecting almost one-fourth of California’s homes and causing up to $300 billion in damage.
The scientists, engineers, lifeline operators, emergency planners and insurance experts working on the project named the event “ARkStorm,” after an intense atmospheric river moving water at the same rate as 50 Mississippi rivers discharging water into the Gulf of Mexico, ABC News reported.
The Pacific moisture-filled air current would overwhelm California’s flood protection system, inundate the Central Valley, and trigger hundreds of landslides.
In a conference held by the United States Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency, officials convened to outline new strategies to limit the flood’s devastation.
“Our storms really are as bad as hurricanes in the amount of rain that they can bring,” USGS Director Marcia McNutt said, according to ABC. “Without that type of labeling, we haven’t recognized that our storms are that bad and we risk underestimating emergency response (to storms).”
Climate scientists have long linked rising temperatures to intense weather events like the potential ARkStorm. As the earth’s atmosphere gets hotter, it stores more energy, setting off more extreme weather events with greater frequency.
Scientists say they are able to monitor the ARs with satellite imagery that has improved in the last few years, the New York Times reports.
They estimate that the AR that set off an intense storm over California last month moved water at 20 times the rate of the Mississippi River discharging water into the Gulf.
“Floods are as much a part of our lives in California as earthquakes are,” said Lucy Jones, the chief scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, according to the New York Times. “We are probably not going to be able to handle the biggest ones,” she added.