ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2009

Designing for Disaster

Marty Ralph Students at the Hazard Communication Forum

Marty Ralph (top) and students (bottom) at the Hazard Communication Forum.

ESRL’s Marty Ralph is part of a multiagency science team developing a severe hazard scenario in California, for a public awareness campaign later this year. Last November, the US Geological Survey and others conducted “The Great Southern California Shakeout.” Millions of everyday citizens and thousands of emergency responders participated in the earthquake awareness activity—the biggest of its kind in US history.

Now Ralph, in ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division, and colleagues are coming up with a scenario in which the danger comes from the sky, not below ground. The new hazard will involve a devastating—but entirely plausible—winter storm with winds reaching Category 4 hurricane force, up to 20 inches of rainfall in one day, major flooding in both northern and southern California, heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, extensive power outages, and heavy surf and coastal erosion.

ESRL scientists and colleagues in the National Weather Service are already involved in detecting and improving the forecasts of severe winter storms in California, which are known to present a major flood hazard in much of California, Ralph said. State officials have made it a priority to plan for one.

Students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., will help the hazards scenario teams figure out how to communicate effectively with the public about winter storm dangers and about the preparedness drill itself. In January, Ralph talked with design students about winter storms and emergency communications, as part of a “Hazard Communication Forum.”