California Super Storms and Homeowners and Flood Insurance

To paraphrase the famous line from the movie Jaws, you’re going to need a bigger homeowners insurance policy. Way bigger if the scientists who are predicting a California Super Storm are correct. And, since water damage caused by floods that come in the wake of storms typically isn’t covered by standard homeowners policies, you may want to opt for flood insurance, too. Lots of it.

Billed as California’s Other Big One, this super storm scenario was modeled on historical records that show the Golden State has experienced many storms in the past that dumped over 16 inches of rain over the span of three days. Two in particular, 1969 and 1986, lasted more than 40 days and dropped 10 feet of rain on California. Tree-ring analysis shows that another winter storm system in 1861-62 inundated a 300-mile by 20 mile stretch of California’s Central Valley, creating lakes in the Mojave Desert. The study was released this month by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

According to its website USGS is “a science organization that provides impartial information on the health of our ecosystems and environment, the natural hazards that threaten us, the natural resources we rely on, the impacts of climate and land-use change, and the core science systems that help us provide timely, relevant, and useable information.”

USGA’s put a team of 117 scientists, engineers, lifeline operators, emergency planners and insurance experts to work for two years on what it dubbed ARkStorm. The AR stands for atmospheric river, an allusion to a hose-like flow of Pacific Ocean moisture powerful enough to soak the state with the equivalent of 50 Mississippi Rivers discharging into the Gulf of Mexico. To put it in perspective, the December storm that lashed California this past December moved water through the state at the rate of 20 Mississippi Rivers. The scientists posit that a storm of that advanced magnitude would cause massive flooding, hundreds of landslides and mud slides and overwhelm California’s flood protection system. It would, according to USGS, have the potential to cause flood damage to 25% of California homes in every major population center.

The economic impact of such a enormous super storm is estimated to be four or five times that of a large earthquake, causing about $300 billion in flooding damage. The event would also carry considerable risk of wind damage to the eastern part of the state. While the USGA team works with emergency responders, government officials and the public on plans to deal with this doomsday scenario, you might want to review your homeowners insurance policy and get flood insurance quotes for garden-variety winter storms.


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