Maybe Hollywood is onto something. Natural disaster movies have been a boon. They’ve shown us the importance of keeping a running chainsaw on hand for the occasional Sharknado.
But when it comes to real life natural disasters, it’s no laughing matter.
Whether it be a hurricane along the East Coast or wildfires consuming millions of acres in the heartland, natural disasters happen every day around the world. And while a disaster that occurs in one area may not happen in another, every part of the globe experiences a natural disaster at one time or another.
Natural disasters cost $175 billion globally in 2016 and caused 8,700 deaths. But what are the major natural disasters we should be aware of? The list is long, but we provide an overview in this blog, along with some tips and tricks for being prepared.
The Major Shakers of Mother Nature
These walls of water are caused by an undersea earthquake or volcanic eruptions. As the waves travel toward land, they increase in height as the water becomes shallow.
With tsunamis come many concerns. Flooding, contamination of drinking water, fires from ruptured gas lines or tanks, and loss of life are the main concerns with tsunamis. In the United States, the West Coast is more prone to tsunamis—yet any coast on the planet can be affected.
The earth is made of tectonic plates, slowly moving around and against one another. These edges are known as plate boundaries, and are made up of many faults. At these fault lines, earthquakes occur.
When the plates attempt to move away from one another, or one attempts to slide over the other, the movement releases energy, creating seismic waves. The waves then shake the earth as they are released and move—what we call an earthquake. With so much energy being released, there are many hazards that happen, from landslides and tsunamis to flooding, fires, and more.
Although they make for fascinating views, thunderstorms pack heavy punches as natural disasters. The basis for any thunderstorm is a rain shower with thunder and lightning, whether or not you experience the rain. Thunderstorms form when moisture combines with rising unstable air, and a lifting mechanism keeps the air moving upward.
But if a thunderstorm is a rain shower with a couple accessories, how are they dangerous? Fifty-one people die in the U.S. each year from lightning strikes, according to Ready.gov. On top of that, there’s also a classification of severe thunderstorms. The hazards are increased, as a severe storm has one or more of the following:
- Hail one inch or larger in diameter
- Winds exceeding 58 mph
While Twister made tornadoes look exciting and even romantic, anyone who’s experienced one will beg to differ. Occurring on every continent except Antarctica, tornadoes are a narrow, rotating column of air. They extend from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground—and a funnel is classified as a tornado that doesn’t touch the ground.
In the United States, peak tornado seasons vary with the seasons and geographic location. Along the Gulf coast, springtime is peak tornado season. But in the northern plains and upper Midwest regions, midsummer is when the most tornadoes occur.
You might be flashing back to the middle school science fair. Yes, that time the kitchen ceiling was splattered with food coloring and baking soda. But your experiment worked.
When it comes to real life volcanoes, food coloring and baking soda are much, much tamer. Liquid rock, ash, cinders, and/or gas are expelled to the surface when a volcano erupts. The danger of volcanoes lies in the ashy, polluted air after eruption and the destructive lava that explodes from within—often causing fires and devastating landscapes.
The idea of volcanoes may conjure far off locations, along the Pacific Rim region. But for our service area, we live near an active volcano system. Yellowstone National Park is home to a caldera volcano, and part of the Yellowstone Plateau centers on an active volcanic system.
These natural disasters have made headlines many times in the United States. From Andrew in South Florida in 1992 to Katrina in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region in 2005, and Sandy in 2012, hurricanes impact large swathes of the country.
Made of rotating low-pressure systems, hurricanes are weather systems with thunderstorms. Once the winds of the system reach, exceed and sustain above 74 mph, it becomes a hurricane. They often form in the Atlantic Ocean basin during hurricane season, running June 1 to November 30.
Hurricanes bring many human hazards, from dangerously high winds picking up debris to life-threatening amounts of rain and flooding.
Heat & Drought
Heat reaches extreme levels when the combination of temperature and humidity—also known as the heat index—makes it difficult for the human body to cool itself. When the heat index reaches an unsafe level, we are susceptible to heat cramps, exhaustion, and heat stroke. No matter the condition, the danger of heat-related illness lies in the insufficient levels of salt and fluid in the body.
Although the definition of a drought varies depending on the person being asked, all are periods of drier-than-normal conditions that cause water-related problems. It’s difficult to determine when one begins, as they start and end gradually.
When usually healthy vegetation is stripped of moisture and access to moisture, it becomes prime fuel for wildfires. A fire becomes a wildfire with help of strong winds and warm temperatures; 80% of wildfires are started by humans, but a lightning strike or power line can also provide the needed spark. Wildfires occur around the country and globe, but the most common occur in the western United States.
Caused by freezing rain, ice storms are indiscriminate in the damage they cause. And if it’s a surface, ice will accumulate, whether roads, sidewalks, roofs or trees. The Weather Channel breaks down ice storms into three categories, by the amount of ice that builds up. The categories are:
• ¼” or less
• ¼” to ½”
• ½” or more
Even a thin layer of ice can cause hazardous conditions, while heavier accumulation can damage power lines and trees. When just a ½” of ice forms on power lines, it adds 500 pounds of extra weight! The danger lies in power outages during plummeting temperatures, so anyone who lives in an area where snow, ice and rain are common during winter months should be prepared.
An avalanche is snow moving rapidly down a hill or mountain. While wintertime has prime avalanche conditions, weather, temperature, winds, snowpack conditions, and more factor into how likely an avalanche is to happen.
Speed is a huge factor in the level of destruction an avalanche can cause. Moving upwards of 80 mph, an avalanche moves with such force it will flatten or splinter trees, homes, buildings, and anything else in its path.
While many people associate large amounts of snowfall with blizzards, it’s also the wind and below freezing temperatures. Snowfalls, whiteout conditions, and temperatures combine to make blizzards dangerous for travel, exposure to cold, and temporary power outages.
Raindrops appear harmless, but they’re always the beginning of hail stones. Pulled upward by thunderstorms into the coldest areas of the atmosphere, moisture freezes into sizable ice balls that can total a car and break windows.
The larger the hailstone, the more likely it is to cause damage to property and possible injury to humans and animals caught in a storm. Any hailstone under ½” in diameter usually won’t cause damage. But once hail grows larger than a dime, the risk for damage and/or injury increases.
And for customers and residents in our service areas? Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming have the most hailstorms each year.
Like their snowy counterparts, avalanches, landslides are rock, debris, and/or earth moving down a slope. The most frequent speed is between 30 and 50 mph, though some have been clocked at 200 mph.
Rain, snow, earthquakes, erosion and/or human activity can cause landslides at any time of year. While many avalanches occur in the backcountry mountains, landslides are much more common in populated areas like California. In the U.S., landslides mainly occur in the Appalachian Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Coastal Ranges, and in some regions of Alaska and Hawaii.
Any place in the world which receives rain, even if once a decade, is under threat for flooding. Defined as “an overflowing of water onto land that is normally dry,” flash floods cause more damage and destruction due to the speed and unpredictability.
Flooding has been known to destroy homes, streets, bridges, and even towns. Attempting to travel during a flood is incredibly dangerous, as debris and rapid currents can quickly sweep away heavy objects, such as cars or small houses.
Tips to Be Prepared for Natural Disasters
Natural disasters disrupt every aspect of daily life, with no defined timeline. Any basic supplies should be non-perishable and plentiful enough to last a week. There should be one gallon of water per person, per day, along with any necessary medications and medical items.
The Red Cross recommends having copies of personal documents, such as birth certificates, insurance policies, proof of address, and passports. If you have pets, remember to have supplies for them also, including collar, leash, ID tags, food, and a carrier if necessary.
For more information on what to have on hand for disasters, check out our blog: “7 Tips to Be Proactive Before a Home or Business Disaster”
How We Help After Disasters
Water Extraction Experts specializes in water damage removal and remediation. We understand that after a natural disaster, returning life to normal quickly is crucial. Putting safety first, our team of professional and certified technicians work diligently from start to finish.