The United States is huge and natural hazards are abundant. Mountains, forests, prairie's deserts, even tundra, plus much more can present many dangers that seem to come from nowhere, be it fire, water, air, and also from the earth's core.
The U.S.territories encounter the most tornadoes in the world and more active volcanoes than any other country except Indonesia. We also have heat waves, which may not have the grandeur of a tornado or volcano, but still, pose a grave danger.
The aforementioned differentiating terrains bring on different dangers for each specific region, but which is the most dangerous? Truth be told there is no real, easy answer, however, the southern regions tend to have their fair share.
Here is the run-down of natural dangers/hazards and how they differ geographically.
Types of Danger
Geology, differentiating and fast-changing weather makes for several natural pitfalls and disasters in the U.S.
Intense storms, wildfires, landslides, avalanches, sinkholes, blizzards, flooding, droughts, heat waves, earthquakes, volcanoes and tornadoes, and more can bring imminent danger any time of year. David Applegate, acting deputy director of the United States Geological Survey says "The U.S.is blessed with a wide range of natural hazard events, and most of these hazards have hotspots around the country."Geology, differentiating and fast-changing weather makes for several natural pitfalls and disasters in the U.S.
In western states, volcanoes are common, in places like Hawaii, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest region. Another common danger is earthquakes, especially on the west coast in California, however, the earth also shakes occasionally in the east and central regions. These quakes tend to register much lower on the Richter scale than those in the west. But if you trace back to the early 1880's you can find a two year period where a series of earthquakes hammered around a place called New Madrid, Missouri which is almost smack dab in the middle of the United States.
The West has to face wildfires, while the Northeast regions and the Midwest deal with regular snowstorms 3-5 months out of the year. The eastern seaboard and the Gulf of Mexico get hit with tropical storms and hurricanes. You can go from the southern part of Minnesota to Texas and get pounded by severe storms. What is considered to be 'Tornado Alley' occurs in the south-central region and even moves east to Florida. "We have these broad expanses over which…the conditions are ripe for forming major thunderstorm systems and with plenty of nice smooth terrain for those to be able to form tornadoes," Applegate says.
Photo source: Jan Mallander via Pixabay
Sinkholes, which are caused by underlying rock being easily eroded, also happen in Florida. The mountainous states encounter avalanches, although these can happen anywhere with a steep enough incline that has snowfall.
Some natural hazards pop up in every part of America. Susan Cutter, director of the Hazards & Vulnerability and Research Institute at the University of South Carolina says "Flooding is a fairly ubiquitous hazard that's found pretty much everywhere." Flooding is especially prevalent near rivers and coastlines, arid regions have to endure droughts and landslides. She also says many natural hazards aren't isolated events. "There are a lot of cascading consequences." Along the coastlines storm surge and hurricanes cause extreme wind damage and often fatal inland flooding. Last in North Carolina Hurricane Mathew dropped over 17 inches of rain in a very short period of time. Droughts lead to wildfires stripping plants that keep soil sturdy, causing landslides.
Even after some digging, this is still not easy to answer, it's almost like a pick your poison type of thing. Cutter said it depends on what you looking at. She and her colleagues have examined death and damage from natural disasters throughout the USA since 1960.
Since 1960 Cutter's group estimates that Florida has undergone the biggest hit as far as monetary cost and property damage. Hurricanes top this list according to Cutter; she also says flooding and fires have contributed as well.California comes in second for dollar losses, thanks to a combination of earthquakes, flooding, storms, and fire.She said "California kind of has it all." Louisiana has sustained the third-highest amount of damage.
The most damaged states often do not suffer the most loss of life, Cutter says due to severe flooding and weather Texas has the most natural hazard-related deaths, and Illinois encountered the second-highest number of deaths since 1960 thanks to urban heat waves like the infamous Chicago heat wave of 1995, next on that list is California.
Los Angeles County has endured the largest amount of damage per county in the U.S. Chicago, Illinois' Cook County had the most deaths per county.
Hurricanes have been the most expensive disaster since 1960, and severe weather has claimed the most lives. Cutter also examined how hazards vary around the United States, and found that the south and intermountain west were the regions most prone to deaths by natural hazards.
By Cutter and her colleagues' estimate, Los Angeles County has sustained the highest amount of damage, while Cook County, Illinois (where Chicago is located) saw more deaths than any other American county.Hurricanes are the most expensive disaster, while severe weather has claimed the highest number of fatalities.In 2008, Cutter also examined how hazards vary around the United States, and found that the south and intermountain west were the regions most prone to deaths by natural hazards.
As for the future of natural hazards in the United States, Cutter says in coming decades, climate change is going to transform the pattern of natural hazards across the country. "Earthquakes won't change, volcanic eruptions won't change, but all of the other non-geophysical-related hazards will change," Cutter says.