Study: Catastrophic Mega-Flood an Imminent Threat to Northern California

Over the past decade, we’ve seen dramatic swings in weather during the different seasons in Northern California. From drought to extreme flooding, Mother Nature has kept us on our toes and it doesn’t seem like it will slow down anytime soon.

A study released by UCLA climatologists have found that climate change will produce “precipitation whiplash” in California, with extreme droughts followed by intensely wet winters in the coming century. The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change and it predicts how warming oceans will cause atmospheric rivers that could cause a mega-flood similar to the Great Flood of 1862.

The study found that the odds of a mega-storm hitting Northern California are increasing dramatically. Major drought-to-flood swings occur on average of four times per century, but that number is expected to increase to six times this century. The frequency of serial storms on the scale of 1862 will increase 300%-400%.

Photo of the streets of Sacramento during the Great Flood of 1862

The U.S. Geological Survey have hypothesized that mega-floods like the Great Flood of 1862 come to California about once every 200 years, meaning we are due for one in the next 40 to 50 years. That future mega-flood could cause up to $1 trillion in damage and have a death toll in the tens of thousands. It would exceed anything we’ve seen in U.S. history.

Scientists studying sediment layers in the San Francisco Bay discovered evidence that such mega-storms occurred in the years 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, 1605 and 1862. If you do the math, the probability of seeing a storm like that in our lifetime is pretty high.

Even if the mega-storm doesn’t come immediately, the increased volatile swings in weather present problems for California residents. Officials will need to work round the clock to monitor water storage as well as flood management. Catastrophic events, like the collapse of the Oroville Dam spillway, may become more of the norm during the next century. The long-term annual precipitation is expected to remain the same.

In the coming years, state officials will need to carefully consider water storage in California. Keeping the reservoirs full while also considering flood management will be crucial to the future of the safety and economic prosperity of the state.

Let’s just hope this doesn’t end in catastrophe.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


  1. So what does it have to do with climate change? They’ve estimate it happens every two hundred years so how are you going to stop it? In addition, they say severe droughts followed by extremely wet winters? Well, if the winter is wet then the drought is over. duh!!!

  2. So the weather cycles that have been occurring for thousands of years is now “man made” climate change? How about just calling it what it is, natural climate cycles. There now, the science is settled.

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