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ARkStorm: up to 40 days of rain and sleet in Lake Tahoe

The worst storm Lake Tahoe has ever seen. All highways are blocked from incoming help. Residents stranded with no food and no power. With no power, comes no heat. Weeks upon weeks of rain and melting snow pack. A storm so big it is almost inconceivable.

On Thursday, Jan. 31 in Sierra Nevada College’s Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, Dale Cox, a regional hazards coordinator and Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey [USGS] presented on an inevitable storm, which they call the ARkStorm, or Atmospheric River 1000.


The ARkStorm is a scenario described by the USGS hazards experts. This scenario is designed partly on the 1861-1862 storms, which consisted of storms that were back to back, according to Dettinger.

“Experts have designed a large, scientifically realistic meteorological simulation followed by an examination of the secondary hazards… physical damages to the built environment, and social and economic consequences,” said the USGS Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario.

According to Dettinger and Cox, this storm scenario will become a reality. During an ARkStorm, Lake Tahoe would receive two storms back to back, in a weather sequence that would lay down lots of fog and rain, causing the snowpack to melt, which could last up to 40 days. The ARkStorm would hit the West Coast and would cause extensive damage to Calif., affecting the Lake Tahoe area.

“Somebody’s going to have to do something about this,” said Cox. “It’s going to happen.”

Cox explained that there was an extreme weather scenario done for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

“But, it was too big for people to think about,” said Cox.

A storm of this caliber could cost approximately $725 billion dollars, said the USGS Overview of the ARkStorm Scenario.

That was an eye opener for many community members who attended the presentation.


“I was astonished when [Cox] explained that there were scenarios for both Hurricane Kartina and Sandy,” said community member Billy Wilson, 32, of Minden, Nev.

“It was surprising to hear, and made the storm scenario become a reality.”

Researchers have a sense of big Atmospheric River storms five-seven days out, but unfortunately, they do not know how long it is going to last.

“It’s sort of like a drought,” said Dettinger. “You don’t know when it’s going to end.”

There are preventative measures to make sure that a storm of this magnitude, would not turn into a catastrophe. Cox and Dettinger explained that there needs to be proactive planning and risk organization.

For members of the community, this was a real awakening.

“I think as a community, we need to start planning for an ARkStorm now,” said Wilson. “It would be devastating for this type of storm to hit the community and not do anything about it.”

Though there are many excuses as to why the community should not start preparing for a storm comparable to the ARkStorm scenario, it can not be overlooked.

“You might not like to deal with this, but it has to be looked at,” said Dettinger.


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