01/18/2011 05:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Super Storm California: Real Risk Or Weather Hype?

Californians aren't sure whether to prepare for doomsday or shrug off this latest report from meteorologists. Dubbed the "superstorm," scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) just presented a document hypothesizing the effects of a massive winter storm on the state of California. Over 100 scientists, public policy experts, and engineers signed on to the research, which aims to help prepare the state for multiple emergency scenarios by shoring up already-existing infrastructure and proposing new ideas. For example, research from MHDP's first hypothetical hazard, the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, resulted in a massive earthquake drill that involved over 5.5 million citizens.

MHDP's report predicts that in the event of a catastrophic storm, California's flood protection systems would be overwhelmed and property damage could reach almost $400 billion dollars. Over 1.5 million residents would have to be evacuated, and "business interruption costs" could reach $325 billion in addition to the aforementioned property costs.

Yahoo! News quotes Lucy Jones, one of the study's architects on the plausibility of such a scenario:

"We think this event happens once every 100 or 200 years or so, which puts it in the same category as our big San Andreas earthquakes. The ARkStorm is essentially two historic storms (January 1969 and February 1986) put back to back in a scientifically plausible way. The model is not an extremely extreme event."

On the other hand, Kevin Martin, a meteorologist from The Weather Space, takes issue with media coverage of the hypothetical study. The Weather Space quotes Martin saying, "The titles are premature and irresponsible," and "any outlet that deems scares the living daylights out of the public with false titles should lose credibility. The fact is, it is a scenario, not an actual storm coming as we speak."