“And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.” -John Steinbeck, from East of Eden

California’s climate is famously volatile, with winters of devastating floods separated by years of remorseless drought. Following recent extreme mega storms in New York and New Orleans, the Bay Area Council Economic Institute and its partners have prepared Surviving the Storm, a report which models the potential economic impacts of a 150-year mega storm striking the Bay Area.


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  • 344,000: Total number of residents living within the 100-year floodplain.
  • $42 billion: Total value of assets located within the 100-year floodplain.
  • $10.4 billion: Total estimated economic damage by hypothetical mega-storm, includes property damage and losses due to transportation delays and blackouts.
  • $11.2 billion: Total economic damage of Loma Prieta earthquake, adjusted for inflation.
  • $10.1 billion: Total estimated structural and building contents damages
  • $125 million: Electricity service interruption costs
  • $164 million: Road and air transportation delay damages


  • Alameda: $739 million
  • Contra Costa: $758 million
  • Marin: $1.202 billion
  • Napa: $36 million
  • San Francisco: $5 million
  • San Mateo: $1.09 billion
  • Santa Clara: $6.14 billion
  • Solano: $137 million
  • Sonoma: $3 million

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  • Approximately 150 year return period.
  • Up to 10 days total rainfall, with 12 inches over 4 to 7 days.
  • Elevated creek and river flows lasting over one week; peak flood flows last one day.
  • HIgh tide in the Bay based on maximum observed tide which occurred in January 1983
  • Area inundated by flood waters based on computer analysis of flood flows and a review of FEMA flood maps and other flood studies.

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  • California’s climate is highly volatile, with wild swings between wet years and dry years.
  • Three wettest years since records began have occurred since 1975.
  • Current drought estimated to be driest 4-year period in 1,200 years.


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“Protecting our residents and businesses from natural disasters is a high priority in San Jose. Continued regional, state, and federal collaboration to best prepare for Bay fl ooding from the likes of a 150-year storm is essential to remaining the world’s center of innovation and retaining our economic vitality in the decades ahead.” –Mayor Sam Liccardo, City of San Jose

“This report highlights the real dangers we face from extreme weather events and climate change in the Bay Area. In San Francisco, we’re aggressively tackling these challenges by developing innovative capital planning guidelines accounting for sea level rise, meeting our greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and investing billions to make our municipal infrastructure more resilient. San Francisco is taking the approach that preparing for tomorrow, starts today.” –Mayor Edwin Lee, City of San Francisco

“We are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful and geographically rich and diverse parts of the country. But with that diversity comes risk and responsibility. Knowing that we are a coastal city in a region already vulnerable to disaster and that climate change is impacting weather patterns around the globe, we have to take steps to protect ourselves from the inevitable. That means heeding the warnings and making smart local and regional investments in our physical and technological infrastructure that build the resiliency we need to safeguard our residents and communities from potential physical and fi nancial devastation.”–Mayor Libby Schaaf, City of Oakland

“As Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Sea Level Rise and the California Economy, I have had the opportunity to hear from experts about the pending “double whammy” of sea level rise and major storm events. I thank the Bay Area Council Economic Institute for providing us with a wake-up call on the economic disaster that awaits the Bay Area if we do not prepare for a future extreme storm. –Assemblymember Richard Gordon, California State Assembly “California is no stranger to extreme weather events. Despite the ongoing drought, longtime residents know that floods come next. According to estimates from the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a catastrophic storm event could cost the Bay Area more than $10 billion. This is a level of damage would be equal to the Loma Prieta earthquake. To protect against this, we must reinvest in the fl ood control infrastructure the Bay Area desperately needs.” –Assemblymember Marc Levine, California State Assembly

“In the event of an extreme storm, San Mateo County will be one of the hardest hit regions in the Bay Area. To avoid devastating consequences to our economy, infrastructure and communities, we must take action now to reduce fl ooding risks. If ever there was a case where ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ this is it.” –Supervisor David Pine, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors

“Weather has an obvious impact on air travel and the larger economy, but an extreme storm in the San Francisco Bay area has the potential to disable our local infrastructure and cause as much as $10 billion in economic damages—nearly as much as the Loma Prieta earthquake. It’s time for businesses and governments at the local, regional, state and federal levels to make fl ood defense and other preparations a priority.” –David Cush, President & CEO, Virgin America

“We can’t say we weren’t warned. The Bay Area is past due for a major storm event unlike anything seen since the gold rush and potentially as damaging as a major earthquake. Sea level rise is only going to make the problem much, much worse. Rather than await the inevitable Sandy or Katrinatype event, the Bay Area must proactively reinvest in the levees, sea walls and wetlands needed to defend our homes and businesses. With a little vision, the Bay Area can position itself to become the most climate resilient coastal region on earth.” –Jim Wunderman, President & CEO, Bay Area Council

“The San Francisco Bay Area is at risk from fl ooding — whether from rising seas or from a major storm. Either one could seriously damage our economy, with reverberations felt at the state, national and international levels. This cannot be allowed to happen. We must all work together now to adapt to the changing climate, before it is too late.” –Carl Guardino, President & CEO, Silicon Valley Leadership Group

“BCDC welcomes this report on the ramifi cations of extreme weather – not because it is good news. Instead, it focuses on very real and important dangers to, and challenges faced by, the Bay Area. As more attention is focused on rising sea level worldwide and in our own San Francisco Bay, the critical relationships between issues of fl ood control and higher water levels are being recognized. I hope that this report will be disseminated widely and that it will expand the discussion of how the Bay Area needs to adapt to the inevitable dangers posed by large and extreme storms and rising sea level.” –Zack Wasserman, Chair, San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission (BCDC)

“Restoring the Bay will help protect our communities from fl ooding and promote our region’s economy, all while enhancing water quality and wildlife habitat. This report shows why wetland restoration projects have overwhelming public support.” –David Lewis, Executive Director, Save the Bay

“We are fortunate in the Bay Area to not be debating whether climate change is real: we know it is, and California is leading the world in our eff orts to slow it down. In the past few years, our region has come a long way toward understanding our climate vulnerabilities, and fi guring out what resilience could look like – but we need better planning, sustainable funding, infrastructure development and coordination to leverage these eff orts toward a truly resilient regional approach. It is much less expensive to avoid damages – and misery – by being ready for disasters than it is to suff er them unprepared. The sooner we can scale-up our resilience eff orts, the better off we all will be.” –Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director, SPUR

“As the region continues to invest in its aging infrastructure, we must incorporate prudent policies and designs that will mitigate the risks associated with more extreme storm events and higher Bay water levels. The future of our Bay Area cities and economies depends on the conservation we’re willing to make today, and the decisions we make for tomorrow.” –Harlan Kelly, General Manager, San Francisco Water Power Sewer

“The Bay Area Council’s new report on the risks from severe storms is both sobering and timely. But the report also highlights the opportunities we have regionally to address this threat with multi-benefi t projects, like living shorelines and restored marshes. While not every mile of bay shoreline can be protected through such means, in many places we can create lower cost, eff ective shoreline protection that both protects the adjacent communities and supports our living resources so cherished by Bay Area residents.” –Judy Kelly, Director, SF Estuary Partnership

“If there’s one place on earth with intellect, technology, and vision, combined with business and political leadership, to tackle the challenge of climate change, it’s the San Francisco Bay Area. We’re also ground zero for California’s sea level rise impacts. We must take decisive leadership now so we’re not chest deep in fl ood waters when the inevitable 150 year storm hits. For incentive, remember the last one hit 154 years ago.” –Warner Chabot, Executive Director, SF Estuary Institute


  • Does not include potential loss of life.
  • Does not include business disruption costs.
  • Does not include structural damages to roads and critical infrastructure.
  • Does not include damages to regions outside Bay Area, such as the Sacramento Delta or Central Valley.
  • Does not factor in future sea level rise, expected to rise up to 24 inches by 2050.