January 26, 2010

‘Frankenstorm’ Model Created By Scientists

As Californians reflect over the recent wild weather that battered the Golden State, experts are warning of a far worse scenario that could potentially hammer the state with record rainfall, according to the Associated Press.

As bucketing rains soaked through the fire-stricken hillsides and flooded fields and roadways, scientists at the California Institute of Technology settled in to work on their monster weather scenario, "Frankenstorm."

The hypothetical scenario is huge, and "much larger than anything in living memory," said project manager Dale Cox with the US Geological Survey. The storm would be similar to the extreme floods that ravaged communities in 1861 - 1862 and prompted the government to move the state capital from Sacramento to San Francisco until things improved.

In the new scenario, the storm would form in the Pacific waters and slam the West Coast with the force of a hurricane. Southern California would be hit the hardest. The system would stall after driving wind and rain in for more than a week. A storm to the north brews offshore and works its way to the northern coast where it pummels Northern California.

Research meteorologist Martin Ralph of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who worked on the project, said a massive storm like this would potentially bring as much as 8 feet of rain over a 3 week period.

"Frankenstorm" would be the storm of storms. Even this latest weeklong rage of weather would be no comparison to such a massive storm that scientists believe could be a possibility.

With climate change a big factor in how weather systems form and react, experts feel that storms along the West Coast could be bigger and stronger and happen more frequently. This latest series of storms showed what is possibly on the horizon. Roads were flooded, tornados were spawned, homes were evacuated for fear of mudslides, and as much as a foot of rain was dumped in the mountains of northwest Los Angeles last week, according to the National Weather Service.

A team of federal, state and academic experts was formed last fall to tackle the possibilities of monster storms and what would happen if they hit and lasted for 3 weeks or more. The scenario is expected to be completed this year and will be implemented in a statewide disaster drill slated for next year.

Scheduled meetings at Caltech to study the disastrous effects of a fictional storm were cut short as many attendees canceled due to the latest storms. "They had to deal with the real thing," said chief scientist Lucy Jones of the USGS.

Several of the scientists working on the latest storm scenario were involved in the 2008 planning of a simulated earthquake on the San Andreas Fault that was used for a preparedness drill.

The Great Flood of 1861-1862 was believed to be a result of the strongest and largest storm series in the state's history. Nearly a third of the state's taxable land was damaged or destroyed.

"Frankenstorm", although based on data from two recent storms, would be much more like the 1861-1862 events. There are very few records available on that storm.

Image Courtesy NASA


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