The U.S. is ready for tornadoes, but not tsunamis.
That's the conclusion of a panel of scientists who spoke this week on "mega-disasters" at the American Geophysical Union's science policy meeting in Washington, D.C.
The nation has done a good job preparing for natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, which occur frequently but usually produce limited damage and relatively few casualties, the panelists said. But government officials are just beginning to develop plans for events like a major tsunami or a large asteroid hurtling toward a populated area.
The difference between a disaster and a mega-disaster is scope, the scientists say. For example, Hurricane Sandy was defined as a disaster because it caused significant flooding in New York and New Jersey last year, says of the U.S. Geological Survey. But the flooding was nothing like what happened to California in the winter of 1861 and 1862, she says.
"It rained for 45 days straight," Jones says, creating a lake in the state's central valleys that stretched for 300 miles. The flooding "bankrupted the state, destroyed the ranching industry, drowned 200,000 head of cattle [and] changed California from a ranching economy to a farming economy," she says.