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2012 Watch: Stressed by storms?

As if the Maya apocalypse wasn't enough to worry about, talk of a potential California superstorm or a catastrophic supernova have given a further boost to 2012 paranoia. Heck, even Hollywood is making a cameo in the 2012 saga.

Doomsayers have predicted that a global catastrophe, or at least some kind of global change-over, could occur in 2012, but they're likely to end up as wrong as those who predicted a Y2K meltdown or a Second Coming in 1844. (Jesus' failure to appear during that year left thousands of Millerite Christians in the lurch and led to what is now known as the Great Disappointment.)

Just in case you need to build up your resistance to 2012 hype, here's the first in a series of roundups relating to the doomsday buzz:


Superstorm:
When scientists and emergency response experts developed their "ARkStorm" meteorological model for the California coast, the point was to figure out a worst-case scenario for weather disaster planning, which would parallel the planning for a seismic "Big One" in the Golden State. They came up with a doozy, proposing that Pacific weather patterns could produce "atmospheric rivers" that dump rain onto the West Coast for 40 days and 40 nights. ("ARk" stands for "Atmospheric River 1000.")

Experts say such a hurricane-style storm occurred over a 45-day period in 1861-1862, causing severe flooding and turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea. Today, that kind of storm could cause $300 billion to $400 billion in damage. The video above paints an apocalyptic picture, made worse because "the public at large does not comprehend the extreme danger the storm poses."

Well, they comprehend it now. All this talk of a superstorm scared the bejeebers out of a lot of people, and it's now become woven into the fabric of 2012 fears. Just do a search for "2012 California superstorm" and you'll see what I mean. There's already a backlash as well: Over at the "Watts Up With That?" blog, Anthony Watts takes the U.S. Geological Survey to task for getting into the "weather porn" business. "I don't dispute the historical evidence of the 1861-62 flooding, but scaring the crap out of the public won't really help them plan effectively."

We don't really have to wait until 2012 for a wakeup call on the threats posed by severe storms: All you have to do is look at what's been happening in Australia and Brazil this month.

USGS

A color-coded map shows rainfall levels that could be caused by a hypothetical "ARkStorm" hitting the California coast. The shades of purple indicate accumulations of more than 50 inches.

 

Supernovas:
Will the star Betelgeuse blow up by 2012, creating a supernova so bright it'll look as if there are two suns in the sky? We addressed this seven months ago: Sure, the red supergiant could potentially explode sometime in the next 10,000 years, or maybe 100,000 years, based on observations of its mass-shedding activity. But no one can really predict precisely when it'll go supernova, and when it does, it's shouldn't have a dramatic effect on Earth.

So why is Betelgeuse back on the 2012 scene? The reason is that it's just so darn tempting to bring up that date anytime a cosmic blow-up is being discussed. That aspect is amply addressed today by Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait as well as Discovery News' Ian O'Neill. Heck, some folks are still trying to talk up the idea that Betelgeuse is going bonkers because it's part of the Maya prophecy for 2012. This won't be the last time we here from "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"

Superstars:
What do you get when you cross celebrity buzz with 2012 buzz? You get some widely re-quoted quotes from "Green Hornet" star Seth Rogen, who recounts a movie meeting during which "Star Wars" creator George Lucas "seriously proceeds to talk for around 25 minutes about how he thinks the world is gonna end in the year 2012, like, for real."

Despite Rogen's protestations, it's not clear whether Lucas was joking, or Rogen was joking, or whether it's just one of those weird Hollywood things. The most interesting spin on the anecdote comes from the New York Daily News, which details how various celebrities (from Ashton Kutcher and Woody Harrelson to Lil Wayne) feel about the impending apocalypse.

You can bet that we'll have more installments of "2012 Watch" over the next couple of years, and I think I'll make a habit of ending every installment with my favorite piece of advice from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy": DON'T PANIC!

More on 2012:


If you're looking for an additional antidote to 2012 hysteria, check out 2012hoax.org. Join the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the blog's Facebook page or following b0yle on Twitter. You'll even find a reference to 2012 hype in a chapter of my book, "The Case for Pluto."