A disastrous ‘megaflood’ flood in sunny and dry California? It’s happened before

A new study raises concerns about climate change-fueled floods dropping massive amounts of water on drought-plagued California – an unlikely sounding scenario that has actually happened before.

While intense droughts, wildfires and earthquakes are typically the main concern across the West, the study released Friday warned of another crisis looming in California: “Megafloods.” It notes climate change is increasing the risk of floods that could submerge cities and displace millions of people across the state. It says an extreme monthlong storm could bring feet of rain – in some places, more than 100 inches – to hundreds of miles of California.

While the scenario might sound like something out of a movie, it’s happened before.

California has experienced severe floods throughout the 20th Century, including in 1969, 1986, and 1997. But a flood from farther in the past – the Great Flood of 1862 – is being eyed by researchers as the threat to California grows by the day.

Though it occurred 160 years ago, the flood – deemed a “megastorm” for its historical rainfall covering huge swaths of the state – illustrates that the threat is not merely theoretical.

In fact, the UCLA researchers studying “megafloods” say such storms typically happen every 100-200 years.

Researchers are sounding the alarm because flood of that scale today would have far more devastating impacts in a state that is now the nation’s most populous. 

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