Residents and visitors of California are all too aware of the impending risk of a major earthquake originating in the San Andreas fault. Or other connected faults. Such a quake could topple buildings, cut power, and kill hundreds. However, what people aren’t as familiar with is the threat of another natural disaster that could cause just as much damage--a mega-storm.
According to Express News, USGS scientists have said California is overdue for “a mega-storm capable of drowning coastal areas in 20 feet of water at any moment. Experts are preparing contingencies for wet weather so extreme it could tear open a 300-mile-wide ocean across the US West coast.”
Whether you live on or plan to visit the West Coast, it’s important to understand the risks, and how to prepare accordingly for extreme flooding. Read on to learn more and ensure you’re ready for what is to come.
What Is a Mega-storm?
The proposed mega-storm would be created by what scientists refer to as atmospheric rivers--long plumes of water vapor that carry tropical moisture across the Pacific Ocean and disperse it in California. Atmospheric rivers are the culprits behind the recent mudslides in Southern California and flooding in Northern California. According to the Los Angeles Times, they can carry as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers.
The estimated mega-storm would result in numerous floods, mudslides, and an estimated $725 billion in damage. One USGS expert told Express News, “These storms have the potential of hurricanes--or even more so because they go on for weeks.” But the Golden State is no stranger to mega-storms like these. And a look back at 1861 reveals just how destructive they can get...
The 1861 Storm - in California
The worst atmospheric river in recorded history hit California in 1861. The state saw 45 days of nonstop torrential rain, and whole towns were essentially swept away. Water coming down from the Sierra Nevada mountains drowned the capital of Sacramento in up to 10 feet of dangerous, debris-filled water. According to Express News, “the flooding quickly rose so high locals had to row up to second-storey windows to enter their homes.”
The precipitation from the atmospheric rivers created an inland sea in the Central Valley that spanned 300 miles long and as much as 60 miles wide. But the effects extended beyond the physical damage--the state took an economic hit as well. With the damaged infrastructure and resulting destruction of the ranching industry, California went bankrupt.
Although this was the worst storm in the state in recorded history, there is evidence that it’s part of a longer-running cycle. A USGS expert shared that “We have geological evidence through flood deposits that even bigger storms than 1861 happened about once every 300 years. We have six events in 1,800 years of geological record.” These worrisome statistics lead us to wonder when the next one will hit...
What Is the Likelihood of a Mega-storm Hitting California Soon?
We’ve been hearing for a while now that California is due for a major earthquake. However, recent USGS findings indicate that a storm similar to the storm in 1861 and lasting for 23 days is just as likely as a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. According to Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, there's a 50-50 chance of another mega-storm hitting California again by 2060.
Even though we don’t have a grasp of a more specific estimated time frame for this storm, what we do know is the potential effects of this impending storm. According to ARKStorm, a project that works to model what would likely happen in the case of the next mega-storm...
- One in four buildings in the state would flood.
- Even coastal communities would be affected, as rivers would swell and flood waters would rush to the shore too fast for the ocean to absorb them.
- At least 1.5 million people would need to evacuate.
- There would be a substantial loss of life.
These predictions are hair-raising, but there is some good news--with our modern dams and flood control systems, we are in a better state than we were in 1861 to deal with the effects of this kind of a storm and flooding. But you may be wondering what individuals and families can do now to prepare for this type of dire situation. There are a few key points to keep in mind when preparing for the worst-case scenario. It’s simply a matter of getting ready and understanding what to do in advance versus waiting until the last minute.
How Should You Prepare?
#1: Be ready to evacuate sooner rather than later. Those that wait to evacuate until it’s too late will certainly put themselves in harm’s way. Even if your house may not be located in an area susceptible to flooding, you need to take evacuation warnings very seriously. In the end, you’d rather be safe than sorry.
Remain aware and up-to-date on alerts and evacuation orders via your local TV, radio station, and city government sites. There are also a few free flood warning apps you can download to have a second layer of protection and notification. These resources will also notify you of where evacuation centers will be located, which streets will be closed, etc.
#2: Make sure you have a plan for power and water. Floods often mean a loss of key services and resources such as power, water, sewage, and gas. Contaminated flood water can compromise your supply of purified drinking water. Play it safe by drinking from a backup supply of bottled water. If and when you run out of your supply, you can also boil tap water for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth. For a more unlimited water supply, have your own gravity-powered water filtration system on hand, like an Alexapure Pro.
- Disconnecting and unplugging appliances and electronics so they remain safe from electrical surges.
- Keeping refrigerator and freezer doors closed to avoid food spoilage.
- Purchasing a solar recharging kit, biomass stove, and solar-powered radio.
#3: Stock up on essentials. Even if your home doesn’t flood, you will likely be cut off from stores and other resources when streets and other structures flood. Additionally, transportation and supply chain systems will be disrupted for who knows how long.
Therefore, make sure you have enough of what you need at home to last you for several days or even weeks. To prepare for a situation in which you find yourself cut off from local services and supplies, you’ll want to make sure you’ve preemptively stocked up on the essentials, such as…
- Alternative communication systems such as a solar-powered radio.
- Solar chargers.
- Nonperishable food to last you for three to seven days.
- Flashlights--if there are any gas leaks, you’ll want to stay away from candles and other solutions that are flammable.
- Medications and a first aid kit.
- Cash, since ATMs and banks may not be functioning or open.
- Gravity-powered water filtration--at least 1-2 gallons per person, per day for three to seven days.
- Hygiene items and toilet paper.
Keep in mind that you’ll want to store certain supplies in areas where they won’t be at risk for contamination with flood waters.
Don’t wait until the last minute to find these items. Use the time now to take an inventory of what you have and what you need, and review your overall plan with your family and friends. We don’t know when this mega-storm could hit, but it could be sooner than we think.
Stay safe, and have a great weekend.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply