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Citizens of California fear that the “Big One” may come. Many believe that the disaster was a catastrophic earthquake that would crumble the greater part of California, damaging both lives and property. However, according to experts, the “Big One” might not be an earthquake but a flood – a megaflood.
Science Advances, a scientific research agency, reported that climate change had increased the chances of devastating floods to double over the next four decades. Experts believe that the kind of floods that would result from climate change is something humans have not seen before.
Megaflood is “a very severe flood event across a broad region that has the potential to bring catastrophic impacts to society in the areas affected,” describes Daniel Swain, a climate scientist who is working with the study and a researcher from UCLA. He likened the megaflood to the 1,000-year flash flood across St. Louis and Kentucky, albeit in a bigger space – as big as the state of California.
Experts say that a megaflood occurring in California may be cyclic in nature – meaning it has happened before. The megaflood has the power to turn much of the California state in to “vast inland sea.” However, due to the worsening effects of global warming, the cycle of megafloods occurring in the state of California might reduce to 25 to 50 years.
Even during this summer, flash floods have repeatedly been occurring in Eastern Kentucky, St. Louis, and Death Valley National Park. The increased incidence of flash floods can be attributed to the heavy downpours which are ultimately incited by climate change.
The state of California is not new to flash floods, and floods as the water volume in the rivers across the state build up and overflow during heavy rains. However, the effects of climate change amplify the rainfall volume, hence the likelihood of a megaflood.
Megaflood – affected areas and what it means to the US
In a study, scientists found out that the California Central Valley, including Bakersfield, Fresno, and Sacramento, would see the most destruction. The data is based on a project that maps the water vapor transportation and possible precipitation accumulation over the area in a 30-day window.
The US Geological Survey said that should Central Valley be washed out due to the megaflood; food supply disruptions could happen as the area produces over a quarter of the food supply of the US.
The effects of the megaflood will be felt across the country. According to a study, the damage the megaflood would cause might reach $1 trillion and severely damage the Orange and Los Angeles counties. In addition, the catastrophe would become the costliest disaster in US history – five times that of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest on record.
The megaflood happened before, and it would be worse this time
Over 150 years ago, the Golden State saw one of the most damaging floods in the history of the country. It was then followed by a drought which exacerbated the effects of the disaster.
The event was caused by a series of downpours that filled the rivers and led them to outpour. As a result, properties were destroyed, livestock was gone, and lives were lost. According to Swain, a much bigger cataclysmic event, such as in Sacramento, could happen again, but this time, it could be worse.
“Such a flood event in modern California would likely exceed the damages from a large magnitude earthquake by a considerable margin,” said the study. “We find that climate change has already increased the risk of a (1862) megaflood scenario in California, but that future climate warming will likely bring about even sharper risk increases,” it added.
“Ultimately, one of our goals is not just to understand these events scientifically, but it’s also to help California prepare for them. It’s a question of when rather than if (the megaflood) occurs,” Swain said.
“When this (flood) occurs again, the consequences would be wildly different than they were back in the 1860s,” added Swain.