In 2009 India, geologist Adrian Helmsley visits his friend Dr. Satnam Tsurutani. They learn that a solar flare is raising the Earth's core temperature. Helmsley hands this report to Carl Anheuser, the White House's Chief of Staff whom introduces him to the President. In 2010, the President and various world leaders initiate a project so that humanity will survive. 400,000 individuals are selected to live on specially-constructed Tibetan "arks." Additional funding is raised by selling tickets. By 2011, all of humankind's treasure is secreted to the Alps.
Come 2012, Jackson Curtis is working as a limo driver for Russian billionaire Yuri. Jackson's ex-wife, Kate, and children live with her boyfriend. To reunite with his kids, Jackson takes them camping, where he meets Helmsley. Jackson soon meets Charlie Frost, who shows a video about polar shifting and the Mayan Calendar. He even has a map from the arks project.
Jackson leaves just as seismic activity peak in California. Suspicious, Jackson rents a Cessna to rescue his family, including Gordon as well, narrowly saving them as Los Angeles sinks into the Pacific. Jackson then flies back to Yellowstone to grab Charlie's map, escaping with it right as the caldera breaks.
The group stops over in ruined Las Vegas in the hope of finding a larger plane. Here, they run into Yuri with his sons, girlfriend, and pilot, ultimately securing a plane and heading for China. Simultaneously, Air Force One is on its way to China, with President Wilson remaining to address the country one final time. Anheuser claims himself leader since the Vice President is dead, the Speaker of the House is missing, and the president is killed by a massive tsunami.
Jackson crash lands in China and with only Yuri and his sons having tickets, the rest of are left to their own devices. They're eventually picked up by a volunteer and taken to the arks, stowing away on the Ark where most of the Americans are located, with Tenzin, another volunteer. Soon, an impact driver lodges into the ark's hydraulics, locking the boarding gate open and locking the engines. Yuri, Gordon, and Yuri's girlfriend wind up dying, with Tenzin being injured and Ark 4 winds up adrift. Jackson and son eventually dislodge the driver and the crew manages to regain control before hitting Mt. Everest. After the flood recedes, the arks reach the Cape of Good Hope with Jackson rejoining his family and Helmsley starting a relationship with Laura.