Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Hazard Mitigation in California

California has a Hazard Mitigation Portal maintained by the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Hazards listed include Fire, Flood, Earth Movement (Landslide), Seismic (Earthquakes, Tsunamis) and Other Hazards.

Other includes Avalanches, Drought, Freezes, Insect Pests, Civil Disturbances, Dam Failure, Hazardous Material Spills, Polution, Terrorism, Volcanoes, and Less Significant Hazards.

Hurricane's are one of the "Less Significant Hazards," along with nuclear power accidents, tornadoes, airline crashes, computer breaches and train derailments.

In assessing whether or not hurricanes present a threat to California, the state currently relies on information found in the USA Today Weather Book by Jack Williams, which dismisses the possibility with this statement:

No hurricanes have hit California in recorded history because tropical storm winds generally blow from east to west, but California is affected by heavy rain resulting from tropical winds that blow north from Mexico and become colder by the time they hit California.
Thus, recorded history determines policy. In fact, though California certainly faces enough threats that have historically been devastating - earthquakes, wildfires, inland flooding and mudslides - the mitigation planning does not even consider the effects of climate change. Nowhere is sea level rise mentioned, or the possibility that eastern Pacific hurricanes may reach further north than before, or the possibility that both drought and extreme rainfall will become even greater threats than before.

Yes, California is leading the way in state-promoted green programs, but given its long coastline and its vulnerability to weather extremes, one can only hope that contingency planning will take place for the changes we're beginning to see in our daily climate.

Records gathered by NOAA show the mean sea level at San Francisco has risen by about 0.2 meters (about 7 inches) from 1850 to 2000. For an interesting - and scary - comparison, check out the graph for Grand Isle, Louisiana.

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