Natural disasters are catastrophic events that can cause loss of life, property damage, and social-economic damage. They are naturally occurring events and are usually related to hydrological, geological, extreme weather(meteorological), and other events such as solar flares or viral outbreaks. The consequences of a natural disaster also have a major impact on the mental and physical well-being of the affected communities. For example, the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, which is a vulnerable community, had disastrous consequences which took years of hard work from the community to repair and build back from scratch. Therefore it is important to learn about the different types of natural disasters that occur all over the world and the basic disaster survival protocols.
Even though most natural disasters are naturally occurring, these disasters are also impacted by the rapid climate change that this world is facing today. Changes in the global climate amplify the risk of natural disasters. Global Warming, which is a direct result of climate change, leads to an increase in the temperatures of air and water which further leads to rising sea levels, supercharged storms and higher wind speeds, more intense prolonged droughts, and wildfire seasons, heavier precipitation, and flooding.
Disasters usually strike suddenly and it is always good to be prepared before the disaster strike than to be stuck in a situation one cannot handle. Here is a list of the commonly known natural disasters and important facts.
Hydrological Types of Natural Disasters
All disasters related to water and water-related hazards are referred to as hydrological disasters. Tsunamis, floods, and droughts are the most common hydrological disasters that happen all over the world.
A tsunami is a humungous tidal wave that is generally produced by underwater geological disturbances such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. These tidal waves can travel at speeds of hundreds of miles per hour before crashing into the land. These waves generally start small from the point where they originate and builds height as they move outwards. Tsunami waves are said to reach hundreds of feet in height, and more, at their peak.
Most tsunamis occur along the Pacific Rim, also known as the “Ring of Fire”. The Ring of Fire extends about 40,000 km long stretching from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America. The Ring of Fire is composed of over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes which produce 80% of the world’s tsunamis. An earthquake of 9.0 magnitude struck off the coast of Japan which lead to massive tsunamis and a nuclear breakdown in the country leading to a lot of damage to life and property.
Floods can cause a lot of damage to people, animals, crops, and infrastructure. They also damage the environment by transporting toxins, causing erosion, landslides, and wiping out fertile land. Floods can be caused by a number of reasons. Heavy rains, dam failures, tsunamis, hurricanes, and other weather-related disasters can lead to flooding of our surroundings.
More often than not floods can be predicted and there are a number of ways to prepare for them. However, some flash floods are unpredictable and can happen even before you receive any warning. Just a few inches of water from a flood can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Flash floods often bring walls of water 10 to 20 feet high. A car can easily be carried away by just two feet of floodwater.
Drought is a condition of unusually dry climate within a certain geographic region due to a lack of annual rainfall. This type of natural disaster is hazardous to life as it can cause water shortage, damages crops, and increase the death rate of livestock and wild animals. The consequences of droughts can be severe.
Droughts can cause hunger and famine as these conditions often provide too little water to support food crops, through either natural precipitation or irrigation using reserve water supplies. The same problem affects grass and grain used to feed livestock and poultry. This leads to hunger among the people and a prolonged continuation of the condition can also lead to famines. A decrease in the water supply can lead to a lack of water for personal hygiene and public sanitation which can lead to life-threatening diseases and viral outbreaks. Droughts can also lead to social conflicts as everyone would be looking out for their own survival.
Geological Types Of Natural Disasters
All disasters related to the earth, such as shifting of tectonic plates, or molten lava spewing through natural vents, are called geological types of natural disasters. Earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, wildfires, and landslides are some of the commonly occurring geological disasters.
Earthquakes are caused by the breaking and shifting of tectonic plates beneath the Earth’s surface. Earthquakes are sudden, violent, and can happen without warning. The ground shaking caused by earthquakes can collapse buildings and bridges; disrupt gas, electricity, and phone service; and sometimes trigger landslides, avalanches, flash floods, fires, and huge, destructive ocean waves (tsunamis). Smaller tremors usually follow the main one and can be as much destructive.
Earthquakes can be measured using a device called the seismograph which measures the magnitude of the energy released during the earthquake on a scale of 1 to10 on the Richter scale. An earthquake of 7.7 magnitude could cause damage to tens of thousands of structures, affecting water distribution, transportation systems, and other vital infrastructure.
The largest earthquake to ever hit the US was in 1811 along the New Madrid fault in Missouri. The earthquake in Japan on March 11, 2011, was recorded at a magnitude of 9.0 Richters and is considered to be the fourth-largest quake ever to be recorded since 1911.
Volcanos are mountains that open downwards to a reservoir of molten lava below the surface of the earth. These mountains are built up by an accumulation of their own eruptive lava, which creates a hazard to everything within a 20 miles radius. A volcanic eruption usually occurs when the pressure from the gases released by the molten magma becomes too much and starts being released from natural ventilator shafts. Eruptions can be relatively calm, such as non-violent extrusion of lava flows on the earth’s surface, or highly explosive with violent ejection of fragmented volcanic debris called tephra, as high as 80 or 90 kilometers.
These types of natural disasters produce lava flow which can flatten landscapes, emit poisonous gases, and produce flying rock and ash. The eruptions can be accompanied by other natural hazards such as earthquakes, mudflows and flash floods, rock falls and landslides, acid rain, fire, and (in case of underwater eruptions) tsunamis. Lava and ash are the major hazards associated with volcanic eruptions. Lava flows are a great fire hazard due to their intense heat. They destroy everything in their path but move slowly enough so that people can move out of the way. Fresh ash, which is made of pulverized rock, can be abrasive, acidic, gritty, gassy, and odorous. While not immediately dangerous to most adults, the acidic gas and ash can cause lung damage to small infants, to older adults, and to those suffering from severe respiratory illnesses.
These types of natural disasters are unplanned in nature can occur in a natural area such as a forest, grassland, or prairie. Wildfires can be caused by human activity or a natural phenomenon such as lightning, and they can happen at any time or anywhere. In 50% of wildfires recorded, it is not known how they started. The risk of wildfires increases during dry atmospheric conditions and high winds.
Wildfires lead to a deterioration of the air quality, and loss of property, crops, resources, animals, and people. Wildfires can also disrupt transportation, communications, power and gas services, and water supply. They also impact weather and climatic conditions by releasing large quantities of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter into the atmosphere. The resulting air pollution can cause a range of health issues, including respiratory and cardiovascular problems.
Meteorological Types of Natural Disasters
These types of natural disasters are usually a result of extreme weather conditions such as high wind speeds, or extremely cold weather. Hurricanes, Tornados, and winter storms are some of the commonly known meteorological disasters.
A Hurricane is a type of tropical storm also referred to as a tropical cyclone and forms over tropical and sub-tropical waters. A tropical cyclone is a rotating low-pressure weather system that has organized thunderstorms. A tropical cyclone with a maximum sustained wind speed of 39 mph or lower is called a tropical depression. Wind speeds higher than 39 mph are called tropical storms. When tropical storms reach wind speeds greater than 74mph then they are called hurricanes. Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is used to rate a hurricane based on the wind speed. The scale measures a hurricane on a rating of 1 to 5. The higher the rating the more destructive the hurricane will be.
Hurricanes have varying diameters ranging from 400 to 500 miles. The “eye” (center) of a hurricane can be up to 20 miles in diameter. When they move from sea to land, they carry a tremendous force, surging with the enormous waves and dropping heavy rain. Their storm-force winds can easily destroy poorly constructed buildings and homes.
Debris such as signs, roofing material, and small items left outside fly around everywhere with the wind force. The hurricane winds can also cause extensive damage to trees, towers, water, and underground utility lines (from uprooted trees). High-rise buildings are also vulnerable to storm-force winds, particularly at the higher levels since wind speed tends to increase with height. It is also advisable to stay below the tenth floor, but still above any floors at risk of flooding. It is not uncommon for high-rise buildings to suffer a great deal of damage due to windows being blown out. Consequently, the areas around these buildings can be very dangerous.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can be tracked with the help of an extensive satellite network and weather forecasting tools, days ahead of any impact, providing ample time to prepare. A hurricane disaster kit can easily be and be readied for potential evacuation.
These types of natural disasters are extremely violent storms that usually spawn from thunderstorms. Tornados appear as rotating, funnel-shaped clouds that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 mph. Some are clearly visible, while others can be obscured by rain, nearby low-hanging clouds, or darkness. Occasionally they develop so rapidly that little if any, advance warning is possible.
Tornados can travel distances from up to 1 mile to over 50 miles damaging everything in their wake. They may appear almost invisible, but you can tell when they are present as they start to move debris into the air or when a cloud appears in the shape of a funnel. The path of a tornado is usually from Southwest to Northeast, but it is possible that they can come from any direction. The average forward speed is 30 mph, but tornadoes have also been recorded at 70 mph. They can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land. Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water. Peak season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is May to July.
A winter storm occurs when extremely strong winds coincide with precipitated content that can only happen at freezing temperatures, such as snow, a mix of snow and rain, or freezing rain. The temperatures can drop below 20 F with winds greater than 35 mph. They also produce falling or blowing snow in the air that frequently reduces visibility up to a quarter-mile or less for the duration of the storm. Severe winter storms also called blizzards are known to have temperatures drop to near or below 10 F with winds exceeding 45 mph, and visibility reduced to near zero.
The accumulated snow, from winter storms, can make driving motor vehicles very dangerous. Snow on roadways reduces friction between tires and the road surface, which in turn lowers the maneuverability of a vehicle. Heavy snowfall can immobilize a vehicle entirely, which may be deadly depending on how long it takes rescue crews to arrive. The clogging of a vehicle’s tailpipe by snow may lead to carbon monoxide buildup inside the cabin.
Depending on the temperature of the atmosphere, snow can be either wet or dry. Dry snow can be moved around by wind more easily and accumulates more efficiently. Wet snow is heavier due to the increased water content. Significant accumulations of heavy wet snow can cause roof damage. It also requires considerably more energy to move and this can create health problems while shoveling when combined with the harsh weather conditions.
Power can be lost for days during a major winter storm, and this usually means the loss of heating inside buildings. Other than the obvious risk of hypothermia due to cold exposure, another deadly element associated with snowstorms is carbon monoxide poisoning which can happen anytime combustion products from generators or heating appliances are not properly ventilated.
Other Types of Natural Disasters
Viral Outbreak types of natural disasters – Pandemic
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. It usually occurs when a new strain of a highly contagious virus spreads for which humans have little to no immunity. Due to the contagious nature of the disease and the easy access of humans to different parts of the world, it is quite easy for such diseases to spread. The Covid 19 pandemic is one of the most recent pandemics which has affected the lives of millions of humans around the globe.
Limiting contact with others, until a cure for the disease has been released, is the best way to survive during a pandemic. COVID 19, Swine Flu, SARS, H5N1 Avian Flu are some of the most recent pandemics that have affected the world.
A solar storm is any activity on the Sun’s surface that produces massive energy surges such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections. The surges cause charged particles to be emitted in all directions around the Sun. Not all of these particles are a threat to life on earth. However, when some of these do reach earth they can have a varying effect on life on this planet.
Depending on the strength of the energy surges solar storms can create amazing light shows commonly known as aurora. However, if the energy surge is too strong it can cause damage to power grids, disrupt communications and navigation systems on ships and planes. A Solar cycle occurs when the sun reverses its magnetic field which leads to a cycle of solar storms marked by solar flares, sunspots, and magnetic storms that can have disruptive effects on Earth. Depending on the strength, these storms have the potential to affect satellites and Global Positioning System GPS) signals, and even threaten astronauts with harmful radiation.
Most solar storms take a few hours from the time they are detected until they reach Earth. Solar storms release Coronal Mass Ejections which are massive explosions of matter spewed outward from the sun. These explosions can continue for several hours and often take up to two days to reach us.
In January 2005 with little warning, a giant spot materialized on the sun and started exploding. From Jan 15 through Jan 19, sunspot 720, as it was called, produced four powerful solar flares. On January 20, 2005, a solar flare released the highest concentration of protons ever directly measured. It took a mere 15 minutes, after observation, to reach Earth, indicating a velocity of approximately one-third the speed of light.