Understanding what causes Natural Disasters

Frightening phrase, isn’t it; “Natural Disaster”? When we think about this, we first must define what we mean by natural disaster, though it is pretty straightforward. A natural disaster is simply any disaster, regardless of magnitude, that is caused by the natural processes on the planet. This includes earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, and lightning storms, to name a few.

A lot of people, particularly recently, have observed that natural disasters are striking with greater frequency now than they have in the past. The truth is that this is not the case. There were just as many natural disasters a hundred years ago, or thirty years ago as there are today.

There are a couple differences today, though. First, at no time in our history has there been a truly more globalized communication system than the one we presently have. This means that when a disaster strikes anywhere in the world, we know about it almost instantly. It isn’t that there are more catastrophes happening, but that we are hearing about them much more quickly and fully. Second, there are now far more people living in this world than in the past, and a good number of them are living in danger zones, more than ever before.

Indeed, since they are natural phenomenon, cataclysms have been occurring throughout recorded history and beyond. Granted, before history was recorded, the amount of information we have is scanty at best. Still we only need to look at what has happened during recorded history, and the frequency at which it happened, in order to see that such disasters have been with us the whole time.

Much has been said about the eruption in 1980 of Mount St. Helens in Washington State. Yet this was very far from the most violent eruption we’d heard of or that had been written about. In 1883, the island mountain of Krakatoa erupted with such an explosion that it was heard 3,000 miles away. Over 25 cubic miles of debris were ejected, and the subsequent tsunamis wiped out entire villages in the Sundra Straight. Going back further into history, Mount Vesuvius in Italy erupted in 79 AD, burying Pompeii and Herculaneum, and the thousands of people living there. These are only examples; there are many, many more. More people live on the flanks of Vesuvius than ever before, though this mountain is still quite active. It will erupt again, we just don’t know when.

We’ve had several major earthquakes in the last few decades. But few of them come close to the absolute fury of the great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. This reformed the coastline of Alaska and sent a tsunami that slammed into Hawaii and virtually destroyed the town of Cresent City, California.

Hurricanes have repeatedly slammed into many countries in the past, including the US. Katrina isn’t the first major hurricane to hit the gulf coast, nor will it be the last. The difference is that this area is far more populated than it was, the last time it happened. Every state on the Eastern Seaboard has been devastated by hurricanes. As I write this, hurricane force winds are due to hit the Pacific Northwest later tonight, and we are preparing for a Category 3.

The point is that there are not more natural disasters now than in the past. These have been happening for a very long time, and won’t be stopping anytime soon. What causes them? Well, that is a bit more complex, since some of these systems are unrelated, and in other instances, one thing can cause another. For instance, the 1964 quake in Alaska generated tsunamis so that it caused both earthquake related disasters and wave related ones. Hurricanes often spawn tornados, sometimes hundreds of miles from the eye of the Hurricane. All natural disasters can have different causes, some related, some not, and no place in the world is safe from them.

The best advice would be to have an escape plan figured out, have emergency supplies at the ready and replenished often, and if an evacuation order does come, don’t come up with excuses not to do it, just go! Your life is much more precious than any material things. Natural disasters are going to be around for a very long time. Our job is to adapt to them.