Scientists Concoct "Frankenstorm" Scenario

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    A resident of La Canada Flintridge inspects the mudslide caused by a winter storm in Los Angeles on Monday, Jan. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/Hector Mata)

    Forget last week's storms. Scientists at Caltech have come up with the monster of all Pacific storms.

    As rain, lightning, hail and even tornadoes arrived in the Southland last week, scientists got together at Caltech to dream up a frightening scenario called the "Frankenstorm."

    The hypothetical but plausible storm would be similar to the 1861-1862 extreme floods that temporarily moved the state capital from Sacramento to San Francisco and forced the then-governor to attend his inauguration by rowboat. The scenario "is much larger than anything in living memory," said project manager Dale Cox with the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The point of the storm summit -- in a twist of irony, some meetings were actually canceled because of last week's storms -- was to determine the impact of the megastorm. Scientists tried to determine the fictional storm's impact to dams, sewage treatment plants, transportation and the electrical grid.

    The "Frankenstorm" would result when a system develops in the Pacific and crashes into the West Coast with hurricane-force winds. After a week of that in Southern California, the system stalls, then another storm builds offshore and wallops Northern California.

    We would end up with about 8 feet of rain over three weeks in some areas, according to researchers.

    The next step is to estimate economic damages as well as the risk of landslides and coastal erosion and impact to infrastructure and the environment.       

    The Great Flood of 1861-1862 was believed to be the most powerful and longest series of storms in state history, lasting a month and causing severe flooding. The Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys were water-logged and spontaneous lakes popped up in the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles basin. Nearly a third of the young state's taxable land was destroyed.

    Because there are few meteorological records available on the 1861-1862 events, scientists stitched together data from two recent storms to create "Frankenstorm."