Dealing with Meteorological Disasters in Risk Reduction Calculations (2022)

As mentioned, many natural disasters are a part of normal weather functions. They are often amplified and worsened by circumstances and other factors. This can include other disasters or qualities from other disasters. Such circumstances can cause these disasters to occur much more frequently than others and make them seem like a normal event in some areas.

This article will look at the last natural disaster classification, meteorological disasters. Topics will include an explanation of what is involved with this disaster category, the risks associated with these disasters, and what can be done in response to a meteorological disaster.

What Are Meteorological Disasters?

Meteorological disasters are some of the most common natural disasters that can occur in the world. They are defined as cases of extreme weather conditions that are semi-short lived, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.1 Several hydrological disasters can occur simultaneously with or as a result of a meteorological disaster, and are thus classified as hydro-meteorological disasters. In some cases, this hybrid nature can amplify the risks and potential effects of these disasters. Since meteorological disasters are tied to the weather, they are also affected by elements of climate and the effects of climate change. In recent years, this has produced meteorological disasters that are much stronger and much more intense compared to their historical counterparts; this intensity is also expected to rise with future meteorological events.2

What Risks Are Involved With Meteorological Disasters?

As meteorological disasters are able to occur anywhere in the world, should the conditions be right, risk factors are often specific to the type of disaster. Tornadoes, for example, require instances of high winds and storm conditions. Hurricanes, cyclones, and tropical storms require pressure systems in the ocean to produce and maintain them. Storm systems that produce blizzards and other winter storms require certain temperature conditions in the atmosphere for those kinds of disasters to be produced. These are all factors that can vary based on the circumstances of the weather, so there are a multitude of risks involved that cannot be easily pinned down to a single set of issues.

Reducing the risks associated with meteorological disasters requires preparations and responses to each specific disaster. These disasters often result in large quantities of property damage, so it is often recommended that communities who are expecting an impending meteorological disaster take actions to protect their property. This can include securing outdoor structures and items (e.g. outdoor seating) and shielding breakable fronts like windows to avoid additional damage inside a building if they are broken during the disaster.3 Many of these kinds of disasters prompt the need for evacuations, so communities should prepare themselves in case residents have to quickly flee to safety. This includes knowing safe routes to shelters-including alternatives!-having some kind of reliable transportation, and making sure that any necessarily supplies like food and medications can be grabbed quickly.4 It is the responsibility for community leaders to ensure that residents are fully aware of any large-scale disaster preparedness actions, including shelter locations and evacuation plans. Misinformation with a meteorological disaster can lead to serious and potentially fatal consequences.

The aftermath of a meteorological disaster brings a lot of additional risks, so preparedness often includes plans for when the main event ends. Response strategies include repairing damage, treating injuries and illnesses brought on by the disaster, preventing the spread of disease, and managing resources.5 Emergency situations are fairly common in the aftermath of a meteorological disaster, so having a plan of action for the aftermath can help reduce the risks associated with post-disaster emergencies and possible reduce the intensity of those emergencies. The aftermath of a meteorological disaster, due to the intensity of these events, can last longer than the disaster itself. It is not uncommon for the aftermath to produce effects that last days, weeks, months, or even years after the disaster struck.

Hurricanes, Typhoons, And Cyclones

Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones are probably some of the most common meteorological disasters. All three names are used to describe the same kind of storm, with the differences depending on location. Hurricane is used in the northeast Pacific and northern Atlantic Oceans; typhoons in the northwest Pacific; and cyclones for the entirety of the southern hemisphere and in the Indian Ocean.6 There may also be differences based on the intensity of the storms, typhoons can be stronger and more frequent because of the conditions in the western Pacific Ocean. Otherwise, these storms usually form the same and create some of the same hazards-flooding, tornadoes, intense winds, heavy rainfall, and storm surges.

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These storms often develop when the temperature increases, as they require warm water and strong winds in order to form and be maintained.7 The best time for this in North America is in the summer, with some hurricanes occurring as late as November. A hurricane can actually decrease in intensity when it makes landfall, as this cuts it off from one of its crucial components. The intensity scale for hurricanes is called the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and it focuses on the wind speed of the hurricane, ranging from Category 1 (74-95mph) to Category 5 (157mph or more).8 The physical size of a hurricane can sometimes determine its intensity, but that will not be something that is taken into account when rating it on the scale.

Predicting a hurricane often requires monitoring of storm formations out in the ocean. Satellite imaging can help identify the intensity of an approaching hurricane and allow experts to track their progress. When done correctly, officials are able to issue hurricane watches and warnings. Both are used when it is guaranteed that a hurricane is approaching, with a watch being issued if it will arrive within 48 hours and a warning if within 36 hours.9 This advanced notice is still based on estimates made by experts, so it is possible for a community to have less time than 36-48 hours. However, there is often enough time available for the community and its residents to prepare for the hurricane's arrival. That can include boarding up homes, gathering supplies, preparing for evacuations, and enacting evacuation plans.

Once the hurricane makes landfall, it is best to remain sheltered in place. It is likely that debris that the storm has picked up on its journey will be deposited and thrown around, which can cause damage to property and injury or death to people who end up in the path. There is a lull-the eye-during a hurricane that can last for a few minutes to a few hours, depending on how big it is. Some people use the eye as an opportunity to double check or reinforce protections on their property or to flee to safety, although this can be very dangerous as hurricanes can unleash other disasters-e.g. flooding-that can pose a threat during and after the storm.

Tropical Storms and Depressions

Tropical storms and tropical depressions are the precursors to hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones. They are both significantly less severe and less structured than a hurricane, but the can still be damaging if not taken seriously. Neither a tropical storm nor a tropical depression will fall on the Saffir-Simpson scale; if they do, then they have increased in intensity to become a hurricane. As the precursors to hurricanes, the form when there is a balanced combination of warm water and high winds. They can transform from tropical depression, to a storm, to a hurricane if those winds increase in speed and become much more stable. In other words, the wind needs to be able to maintain a high speed in order for any status change to occur.

Tropical depressions are the weaker of the two, with maximum wind speeds around 39mph, and tropical storms reaching wind speeds of up to 73mph.10 While these make them significantly slower than hurricanes, they can still bring a lot of the same threats their stronger counterparts can. Tropical storms and depressions are notorious for the amount of precipitation they can produce, sometimes lasting for several days and causing flooding far inland from where they initially make landfall.11 Due to their inconsistent wind speeds-which still carry enough force to knock a person over and move unsecured items-they can sometimes develop erratic movements. This can make them harder to track and cause any damage they produce to spread over a wide area.


Tornadoes are rotating funnels from thunderstorms that are produced by high winds. Most tornadoes are not easily visible until they begin to pick up debris and dust from the ground, which is why some may not be able to see a tornado until it touches down.12 Combine that with their nature of developing any time or anywhere and this can pose additional threats to populations who cannot be warned of an impending tornado by officials in advanced. Sure, they may realize that conditions are bad outside when a thunderstorm is happening, but thunderstorms are relatively common and can occur without producing a tornado.

These disasters are destructive forces, and can reach wind speeds over 200mph. Tornadoes usually are measured along the Enhanced Fujita Scale or EF-Scale, which ranges from EF-0 (65-85mph) to EF-5 (200mph or more).13 Varying amounts of damage is possible throughout the EF-Scale, ranging from broken trees and missing shingles to buildings being completely leveled. It is the damage that often determines a tornadoes strength, and measurements are not made until after the storm has passed.14 This is because they can develop and fade very quickly and are usually too destructive to be safe for comprehensive scientific study.

People that are about to face a tornado often need to seek shelter in a sturdy, shielded space. Basements are often recommended, if you have one, but window-free interior rooms on the ground or lowest floor of a building can also work.15 Going to the center of a building, such as an interior hallway, can also work. If you are in a vehicle and cannot get to shelter fast enough, then pull over, put yourself in park with the engine running and your seat belt on. Cover your head with your hands and/or a blanket and get below the windows, e.g. lean forward. Do not park underneath a bridge or overpass, as a tornado can cause damage to these structures and cause them to collapse. Notice of a tornado can be issued as a watch-meaning a tornado is possible-or a warning-meaning a tornado has already touched down or is about to in your area.

Winter Storms

Most winter storms bring heavy snow fall, strong winds, freezing temperatures, and produce a lot of ice. The circumstances of a winter storm can determine the type of storm and the threats it can pose. These include:16

Blizzards-A blizzard is produced when there is blowing snow and high winds. There is often very little to no visibility in a blizzard, which makes any kind of outdoor travel both incredibly dangerous and largely impossible.

Snow Squalls-A squall is a little less intense and wetter than a blizzard, and usually have better visibility. They are common in the Great Lakes region, as lake effect can cause more water to be present in a winter storm. Unfortunately, this means the snow is going to be slushier, heavier, and more likely to produce ice.

Ice Storms-An ice storm occurs when most of there is .25" or more ice accumulation on surfaces exposed to the storm. Power outages and tree damage is common with ice storms, as the build-up of ice causes breakage.

Winter storms pose significant danger. Accidents caused by ice build-up, low visibility, and exposure are not uncommon, and can be fatal. As with extremely cold temperatures, hypothermia and frost bite are also possibilities should a person not take the proper precautions when outside before, during, or after a winter storm. Heavy snowfall also poses a threat, and not just because it can damage anything it lands on; heart attacks and other health conditions caused by strain have been known to occur during snow removal processes like shoveling.17

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