Natural Hazards

, Volume 80, Issue 2, pp 879–900 | Cite as

Application of an extreme winter storm scenario to identify vulnerabilities, mitigation options, and science needs in the Sierra Nevada mountains, USA

  • Christine M. AlbanoEmail author
  • Michael D. Dettinger
  • Maureen I. McCarthy
  • Kevin D. Schaller
  • Toby L. Welborn
  • Dale A. Cox
Original Paper


In the Sierra Nevada mountains (USA), and geographically similar areas across the globe where human development is expanding, extreme winter storm and flood risks are expected to increase with changing climate, heightening the need for communities to assess risks and better prepare for such events. In this case study, we demonstrate a novel approach to examining extreme winter storm and flood risks. We incorporated high-resolution atmospheric–hydrologic modeling of the ARkStorm extreme winter storm scenario with multiple modes of engagement with practitioners, including a series of facilitated discussions and a tabletop emergency management exercise, to develop a regional assessment of extreme storm vulnerabilities, mitigation options, and science needs in the greater Lake Tahoe region of Northern Nevada and California, USA. Through this process, practitioners discussed issues of concern across all phases of the emergency management life cycle, including preparation, response, recovery, and mitigation. Interruption of transportation, communications, and interagency coordination were among the most pressing concerns, and specific approaches for addressing these issues were identified, including prepositioning resources, diversifying communications systems, and improving coordination among state, tribal, and public utility practitioners. Science needs included expanding real-time monitoring capabilities to improve the precision of meteorological models and enhance situational awareness, assessing vulnerabilities of critical infrastructure, and conducting cost–benefit analyses to assess opportunities to improve both natural and human-made infrastructure to better withstand extreme storms. Our approach and results can be used to support both land use and emergency planning activities aimed toward increasing community resilience to extreme winter storm hazards in mountainous regions.


Winter storm hazards Flood Emergency preparedness Emergency management Scenario ARkStorm 



We are very grateful to our agency partners Aaron Kenneston, Tim Cary, Ed Evans, Madonna Dunbar, and Gina Marotto, who brought their expertise and communities together and shared their facilities for the ARkStorm@Tahoe practitioner meetings and tabletop exercise. Several other individuals contributed to development of technical products, including National Weather Service partners: Chris Smallcomb, Mark Faucette, Alan Haynes, and Gary Barbato, Andre Leamons (Bureau of Reclamation), Desert Research Institute partners: Justin Huntington, Tim Brown, Domagoj Podnar, and Hauss Reinbold, Rich Niswonger (US Geological Survey), and University of California, Davis partners: Geoff Schladow and Galoka Sahoo. This project would not have been possible without the active and engaged participation of over 130 public and private sector organizations represented by over 300 individuals. Their perspective and candid assessment of impacts of an ARkStorm event in the region and discussion of possible mitigation actions formed the basis of the findings presented in this manuscript. We also gratefully acknowledge funding and support from the US Geological Survey (Science Application Risk Reduction Project), the University of Nevada-Reno Academy for the Environment and the US Department of the Interior Southwest Climate Science Center.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christine M. Albano
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Michael D. Dettinger
    • 3
  • Maureen I. McCarthy
    • 4
  • Kevin D. Schaller
    • 5
  • Toby L. Welborn
    • 6
  • Dale A. Cox
    • 7
  1. 1.John Muir Institute of the EnvironmentUniversity of California, DavisDavisUSA
  2. 2.Conservation Science PartnersTruckeeUSA
  3. 3.National Research ProgramUS Geological Survey and Scripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA
  4. 4.Tahoe Science Consortium and Academy for the EnvironmentUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA
  5. 5.Resiliency PartnersRenoUSA
  6. 6.Nevada Water Science CenterUS Geological SurveyCarson CityUSA
  7. 7.Science Application for Risk ReductionUS Geological SurveySacramentoUSA

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