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16 Types of Natural Disaster: Know your enemy

Get ready to learn about the 16 types of natural disasters so you can prepare food, water, gear, and a comprehensive plan for dealing with them when they strike.

Certainly, some disasters occur anywhere, but some are area specific. For example, you don’t often see a hurricane in the middle of Iowa. The biggest disaster I face here in Florida is hurricanes, which is what I prep for.

Know your local disasters so you can prepare. Following is a quick list of the top 16 natural disasters.

16 types of natural disasters

  1. Flood
  2. Flash Flood
  3. Thunderstorms and Lightening
  4. Hurricane
  5. Tornados
  6. Heat Waves/High Temperatures
  7. Winter Storms/ Cold Temperatures
  8. Earthquakes
  9. Volcano
  10. Landslides and Debris Flow
  11. Tsunamis
  12. Fire
  13. Drought
  14. Technological Hazards
  15. Terrorism
  16. Infectious Diseases

#1 Flood 

A Flood is an overflow of water onto naturally dry land, which is the most common and destructive of all natural hazards. So, how do floods cause damage?

Floods cause extensive property damage and loss of life, but the damage caused by flooding depends on the water volume and how long it takes to recede. Also, floods often accompany other natural disasters such as storm surges, hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildland fires.  So, what causes floods?

What Causes Floods?

Floods are caused by heavy rain, river overflow, dam failure, hurricanes and tsunamis, poorly engineered water canals, over-engineered river beds, deforestation, wildfires, and heavy snowmelt. Next, we look at flash floods.

#2 Flash Flood (natural disasters)

Flash floods are rapid flooding in lower-lying areas like washes and rivers and can occur due to heavy rain, hurricanes, tropical storms, snowmelt, or broken dams and levees. So, why are flash floods so scary?

One of the scariest things about flash flooding is you can be standing in perfect sunshine with no rain and have a massive river of water come out of nowhere, and flash floods can be super destructive, sweeping away buildings and cars. Next up, lightning.

 According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “attempting to drive through floodwaters is a leading cause of flood-related deaths.”

Flash Flood In Utah

#3 Thunderstorms and Lightning (natural disasters)

Lightning is a rapid discharge of atmospheric electricity, and thunderstorms are lightning you can’t see. For example, if a lightning storm is far from your location, you hear it as thunder, but you can’t see it as lightning. So, what kind of damage does lightning cause?

Lightning causes massive blackouts and fires when it hits the ground and often accompanies other natural hazards like flash flooding, tornadoes, forest fires, and power outages.

#4 Hurricane

Hurricanes are tropical storms that begin as a rotating low-pressure weather system with winds less than 39 mph. This type of storm is a tropical depression. If winds reach speeds of 39 mph or higher, the depression becomes a tropical storm.  If winds reach 74 mph or more, you have a Hurricane. 

How Do You Determine the Intensity of a Hurricane?

Hurricane intensity is its wind speed. See chart #1 for detailed hurricane categories.

Chart #1 Hurricane Categories

Category 1
74-95 mph
64-82 kt
119-153 km/h
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding, and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap, and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
Category 2
96-110 mph
83-95 kt
154-177 km/h
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last several days to weeks.
111-129 mph
96-112 kt
178-208 km/h
Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several weeks after the storm passes.
130-156 mph
113-136 kt
209-251 km/h
Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage by losing most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted, and power poles will be downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the sites will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
Category 5
157 mph or higher
137 kt or higher
252 km/h or higher
Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the sites will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, Compliments of NOAA

Is It Just Hurricane Winds That Cause Damage?

When hurricanes hit land, they bring a storm surge that pushes ocean water ashore and combines with heavy rainfall causing catastrophic flooding. The damage from flooding often causes more damage than hurricane-force wind. So, how strong is a destructive hurricane?

As a hurricane moves closer to shore I have stood on high ground and watched the waves roll in from the Gulf of Mexico. Pictures and videos don’t do it justice. I would call it primal, unbelievable and a bit scary. The ocean becomes a mighty tempest and the waves are so high as to be unbelievable.

Scott, Ready Squirrel
Natural Disaster: Tornado

#5 Tornado (types of natural disasters)

A tornado is an extreme column of rotating air that makes contact with the ground. A tornado’s intensity is determined by the Fujita scale using wind speed, so the higher the wind speed, the higher the tornado is on the Fujita scale, and the more damage the tornado will cause. Check out chart #2 listed below.

Chart #2 Enhanced Fujita Scale For Tornado Intensity

EF-OF65 to 85 mphLight Damage
EF-186 to 100 mphModerate Damage
EF-2111 mph to 135 mph Considerable Damage
EF-3136 mph to 165 mphSevere Damage
EF-4166 mph to 200 mphDevastating Damage
EF-5200 mph +Incredible Damage
Information Compliments of NOAA’s weather service

How Much Damage Can an F-5 Tornado Do?

EF-5 tornadoes can do a lot of damage, including tearing buildings off of their foundation, pealing black-top off of a roadway, hurling vehicles up to 100 meters (298 feet), causing structural damage to high-rise buildings, and creating missile hazards by driving objects through opposing objects. So, where are tornados most likely to occur?

Where Do Tornadoes Occur?

Tornadoes are prevalent in North America, specifically in an area called Tornado Alley, but they also occur in Australia, Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.  So, what is Tornado Alley? 

What is Tornado Alley?

Tornado Alley is an area of the United States with a high potential for tornadoes from late spring to early fall. The states Included in Tornado Alley are Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Louisiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Next up, heat waves.

Crazy Man Filming a Tornado in Madill, Oklahoma

#6 Heatwave/High Temperatures (natural disasters)

A heatwave is a period of abnormally high temperature, often accompanied by humidity. Weather services declare heat waves by comparing current temperatures to the normal seasonal temperature in that location. So, why are heat waves a natural disaster?

Natural Disasters Caused by Heatwaves

There are three major catastrophes heatwaves may cause, crop failure, deaths from overheating, and widespread power outages. As a side note, heat doesn’t cause power outages, abnormally high temperatures make people turn on fans and crank up the A.C., so the higher electricity demand causes the outages.

Remember, power outages are especially hazardous in areas affected by the heat island effect. So, what is the heat island effect?

What is the Heat Island Effect?

The Heat Island Effect occurs in an area with a high population density where average temperatures are higher than the surrounding area due to a high amount of concrete and steel construction and a low density of natural materials like trees and grass.

For example, New York City is an area that suffers from the heat island effect caused by concrete and steel in the buildings that act as heat sinks, intensifying and storing heat, not unlike a solar oven. Next, winter storms and cold weather.

#7 Winter Storms and Cold Temperatures

Freezing weather, snow, and ice can incapacitate entire regions by shutting freeways, knocking out electrical power, causing property damage, and cutting off water and heat. Also, automobile accidents increase and people stranded in snow are in danger of freezing. Next up, Earthquakes.

#8 Earthquake

An earthquake occurs when the ground moves because there is a sudden shift between the earth’s tectonic plates along plate boundaries or fault lines. Consequently, populated areas are the hardest hit because of falling debris and damage to infrastructure. So, how do earthquakes cause damage?

How Do Earthquakes Cause Damage?

Earthquakes cause damage by first ground movement and second by soil liquefication caused by shaking sand, soil, and groundwater, which causes buildings to topple. Third is ground displacement, where the ground moves down or apart, busting gas lines, water mains, and sewage lines, and fourth is flooding from broken dams and levees. Finally, earthquakes start fires from damaged gas and electrical lines.

Natural Disaster: Exploding Volcano

#9 Volcano (types of natural disasters)

A volcano is a rupture in the earth’s crust that may or may not be active if the walls of a dynamic magma chamber rupture, the volcano releases hot lava, ash, and toxic gases. The release can be mild or explosive. So, why are volcanoes a natural disaster?

I was stationed on a U.S. Navy ship that responded to the Mount Pinatubo explosion in the Philippines. There was so much ash from the volcano that buildings collapsed all over the Naval Base at Subic Bay.

Scott, Ready Squirrel

Volcanic eruptions can take human life when they explode or through suffocation from loss of oxygen. Surprisingly, suffocation is the #1 cause of death, and eruptions trigger other natural disasters such as flooding, power outages, mudslides, drinking water contamination, and fires. Next up, landslides.

#10 Landslides and Debris Flows

A landslide is a massive rock, soil, or debris movement down a steep slope, similar to a snow avalanche. By comparison, debris flows keep moving.

Debris flows are a wall of fast-moving mud, sand, dirt, or stone. In addition, landslides and debris flows are particularly dangerous because they destroy everything in their path without warning.

Interesting Facts About Landslides and Debris Flows:

  • Debris flows can occur miles away, getting larger as they accumulate in size by picking up trees, boulders, cars, and other materials.   
  • Giant landslides caused by undersea earthquakes or volcanoes can cause tsunamis  
Amateur Footage Of Landslides and Debris Flows

#11 Tsunamis

A tsunami (tidal wave) is a series of waves caused by earthquakes, underwater landslides, or undersea volcanic eruptions, and they can be massively destructive to life and property. So, what does a tsunami look like?

By the time Tsunamis reach the shoreline, they travel up to 100 mph, but out in the ocean, they hit speeds of up to 500 mph (that’s not a typo). When the leading edge of a Tsunami hits the shore, it slows down due to the shallower water, but the fact that a tsunami slows down doesn’t diminish its destructive power because wave height is also an issue.

As a tsunami gets closer to shore, the water is shallow and slows, but the trailing part of the wave moves faster than the leading edge, so the water stacks, increasing wave height and causing destruction.

In 2011, the 9.0 Magnitude Sendai Earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan. Tragically, the earthquake triggered 33 ft tsunami waves that struck the coast taking 28,500 lives, causing massive property damage, and triggering the Fukushima nuclear incident.

Fukushima Tsunami
natural disaster Two Fire Fighters, fighting fire

#12 Fire

Wildfires/ Rural Fires/Wildland Fires

A wildfire is an unplanned fire that burns forests, grasslands, or prairies. In addition, humans often start forest fires on accident and occasionally on purpose, and lightning is another major cause. So, what causes forest fires?

Once started, wildfires can cause a chain reaction of destruction, such as flooding, power outages, and transportation disruptions. Next up, drought.

In August of 2018, The Paradise Fire was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California’s history, according to USA Today. The fire caused by a faulty electric transformer burned 153,336 acres of wildland and destroyed 18,804 buildings. Sadly, 84 people perished in this fire. 

Paradise Fire, California, August 2018,

#13 Drought (types of natural disasters)

Drought is long periods without rain. Many areas of the world lack emergency water resources from underground aquifers, streams, rivers, or lakes, which regularly causes global famine. Now, let’s take a look at technological hazards.

#14 Technological Hazards

Technological hazards Locomotive, Train

Technological hazards are manmade hazards that can lead to serious catastrophes.

What is a Technological Hazard?

Technological hazards include hazardous material incidents, train derailments, dam failure, munition factories, refineries, chemical plants, petroleum plants, natural gas farms, fuel storage facilities, power plants, and nuclear power plants.

Indeed, industry and technology can set the stage for major Technological Disasters via air pollution, water contamination, radiation poisoning, explosions, toxic waste, dangerous gas clouds, fire, and transportation accidents.

Also, natural disasters trigger technological catastrophes. As an example, municipal water is contaminated with industrial chemicals from hurricanes.

#15 Terrorism

Terrorism is the use of violence to influence political, religious, or ideological beliefs by creating an environment of fear and uncertainty.

4 Terrorist Acts That Lead to Disaster

  1. Explosions: Using explosive materials to commit acts of terrorism
  2. Bioterrorism Intentionally releasing biological agents to kill or harm humans. Agents can be bacteria, toxins, or viruses. These agents are simple to make, inexpensive, and spread quickly. 
  3. Chemical Threats The use of chemical toxins to harm humans, plants, or animals. Agents can come in the form of a gas, liquid, or solid. 
  4. Nuclear Blasts: Explosion of an atomic bomb or an Improvised Nuclear Device. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “a nuclear explosion, initially, produces an intense pulse of heat, light, air pressure and radiation, followed by the “fallout” of radioactive materials.”
natural disaster Infectious Disease Map

#16 Infectious Disease

An infectious disease outbreak may start an epidemic in a localized area and spread worldwide to become a pandemic. The most considerable outbreak risk comes from populations being forced to flee and move to another location. This strains clean water resources, sanitation, and medical facilities. I won’t mention the V that can’t be mentioned.

What is an Epidemic? 

Epidemic refers to an increase in the number of cases of an infectious disease in a specific area. The powers that be try to slow or irradicate epidemics to stop them from becoming a Pandemic. So, what is a Pandemic?

What is a Pandemic?

A pandemic is an epidemic that crosses borders or spreads a new infectious disease worldwide. Furthermore, pandemics are often associated with a new strain of influenza or mutations of avian flu or CoronaVirus (SARS).

Examples of Pandemics:

  • COVID-19 caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2
  • HIV/Aids (2005 to 2012) Death Toll: 36 million
  • Flu Pandemic (1968) Death Toll: 1 million
  • Asian Flu (1956 to 1958) Death Toll: 2 million
  • Spanish Flu (1918) Death Toll: 20 to 50 million
  • Bubonic Plague (1346 to 1353) Death Toll: 50 million

What Kind of Diseases Reach Epidemic or Pandemic Proportions?

Any infectious disease passed from one human to another can become a pandemic, and if an infectious disease can spread via casual contact, it is more likely to spread quickly. 

“ There was no vaccine for The Spanish Flu that killed 50 Million in 1918 and there were no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections…, so control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings”


Best Natural Disaster Movies (Ready Squirrel’s Top 10)

Following is a list of the best natural disaster movies I enjoyed watching. Check them out as motivation to start prepping for the list of natural disasters. Also, let me know in the comments if you have a favorite movie, not in the list below, about natural disasters, the apocalypse, or zombies.

Here is my list of the best natural disaster movies, in no specific order.

  • 2012
  • San Andreas
  • The Day After Tomorrow
  • Wave
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • Pandora
  • The Perfect Storm
  • Armageddon
  • World War Z
  • The Impossible

 That’s all, folks. Drop your thoughts in the comment section below.

Keep on prepping.

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