Study says climate change could cause megaflood across Central Valley

A new study conducted by Science Advances, a multidisciplinary scientific journal, said in the next four decades, a megaflood in California could bring at least eight feet of water to certain parts of the state.

Scientists involved in the study also predict the chances of a megaflood have doubled due to climate change, even as California enters its worst drought in decades.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA and a researcher for the study, said the megaflood could potentially turn California’s lowlands into a vast inland sea, impacting millions. The flooding could persist for consecutive weeks.

Swain described a megaflood as a severe event across a broad region that has the potential to bring catastrophic impacts to society in the affected areas.

Climate change increases the amount of rain the atmosphere can hold which causes more water to fall as rain. This increases heavy rain events, and makes flash floods more frequent.

The extreme rainfall and flood events have the ability to cause catastrophic damage to California’s geography, ecosystems and population.

Although the megaflood could hit most parts of California, the study said the area most affected would be the Central Valley, including cities such as Sacramento, Fresno, Stockton, Modesto and Bakersfield. These areas are more susceptible to damage especially during the spring because of the snow that melts from the High Sierra.

Junior AP Environmental Science student Kaitlyn Abbasi said considering California experiences recurring droughts and other natural disasters such as fires, the state needs to prepare itself for such an event.

“It’s scary to think about, especially knowing it could be as destructive as an earthquake and definitely leave a big impact on communities and agriculture,” Abbasi said. “If this happens, it could be a wake-up call that we need to try harder to lessen the impact of climate change.”

AP Environmental Science teacher Alicia Szebert said it is important for people to understand the long-term consequences of climate change even if they are not currently affected.

“My mom owns property in Huntington Beach, and she sold her property because she knows that in the next 30 years, it’s going to be underwater,” Szebert said. “They’re already dealing with their power lines being flooded along with other issues.”

However, while many are thinking ahead, Szebert said the danger is people will not change their lifestyle in time.

“The government has to step in and create the changes for people because I don’t think the wake-up call is going to happen until it’s too late,” Szebert said.

The flood has the potential to be the most expensive geophysical disaster to date, potentially causing $1 trillion in losses — five times the cost of Hurricane Katrina, the study said.

Junior Sophia Lee said it’s frustrating to see politicians and communities not taking action to protect the environment from severe climate disasters that will likely become more common.

“Especially in California, the state that provides almost 14 percent of the nation’s produce and agriculture, I don’t see why people are not doing everything they can to protect the environment,” Lee said.

Lee said people in Palo Alto should be more mindful of the environment and do more to protect the Earth now to prevent natural disasters.

“Especially in Palo Alto, where people have enough money to spare to make their lives more energy efficient, (they should consider) driving electric (cars), installing solar panels and conserving water,” Lee said.

However, Lee said despite efforts to combat climate change, future climate disasters cannot be avoided. Lee said it’s important to stay careful and prepare as much as possible against any possible future climate events.

“Even if we cut all carbon emissions this second, I know that six feet of sea level rise is given, on top of an increase in flooding,” Lee said. “We need to start preparing for these kinds of disasters.”