HAZARDS

hazards

Danger in paradise: The hidden hazards of volcano geotourism

In November 2000, rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park made a gruesome discovery. The bodies of a man and a woman, in an advanced state of decomposition, were found near the site where lava from the Kilauea eruption flows into the sea, sending up plumes of scalding white steam. The area, aptly named the Eruption Site, is littered with chunks of tephra, a glassy volcanic rock, which are formed and ejected violently into the air when the 2,000-degree-Celsius lava is quenched by seawater.

19 Mar 2012

Benchmarks: February 7, 2009: Deadliest day of fire ever recorded in Australia

On Friday, Feb. 6, 2009, John Brumby, premier of the Australian state of Victoria, warned the public of the high risk of wildfires that weekend: “It’s just as bad a day as you can imagine and on top of that the state is just tinder-dry. People need to exercise real common sense tomorrow.” He was right. The next day, more than a dozen major fires and hundreds of smaller ones tore across the region, fueled by record temperatures and high winds. The so-called Black Saturday fires released more energy than 1,500 Hiroshima bombs, according to one fire expert. Together, the fires cost billions in damage and killed 173 people — the deadliest day of fires recorded in Australia.
 
06 Feb 2012

Benchmarks: January 3–5, 1982: 18,000 landslides wreak havoc on the San Francisco Bay area

When a storm battered California’s San Francisco Bay Area in early January 1982, the rain was intense, but not without precedent. The region had historically endured heavy rains during the winter months, with individual storms sometimes bringing more than half the annual average rainfall in a single 36-hour span. But a collection of unique factors in 1982 created a recipe for a landslide disaster. First, two weather fronts merged, bringing copious amounts of rain to an already saturated region. Second, the rising population had resulted in a construction boom in the iconic hills of the Bay Area. During three days of relentless rain from Jan. 3–5, 1982, a record 18,000 individual landslides occurred, killing at least 25 people.
 
02 Jan 2012

Benchmarks: November 7, 1940, and November 25, 1990: Washington suffers a pair of debilitating bridge failures

Washington’s Puget Sound comprises an intricate network of rivers, lakes, inlets and islands, many of which are traversed by bridges that safely carry more than 100,000 cars each day. With November upon us, however, civil engineers and Department of Transportation officials in Washington must be holding their collective breath. Historically, the 11th month has not been kind to area bridges.
 
07 Nov 2011

Benchmarks: July 9, 1958: Megatsunami drowns Lituya Bay, Alaska

The recent disaster in Japan demonstrates the incredible destructive power of a megatsunami in a heavily populated area. But a record-breaking tsunami of a different sort occurred in 1958, in a remote part of Alaska known as Lituya Bay — and was witnessed by only six people, two of whom died. The giant tsunami and the unusual geometry of the bay combined to produce the largest wave run-up ever recorded — deluging the steep forested hills along the edges of the bay to a height of 524 meters. The wave was a powerful reminder of the forces nature can unleash.
 
04 Jul 2011

Benchmarks: June 22, 1969: The Cuyahoga burns

It was a relatively small fire. In terms of damage and duration, the city of Cleveland had seen far worse in the 173 years since its founding. In fact, the blaze on June 22, 1969, only warranted a mere 181 words in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. But it was not an ordinary fire: It was the Cuyahoga River that burned. And the event started a movement that revolutionized the United States’ commitment to environmental protection.
 
03 Jun 2011

Japan's megaquake and killer tsunami: How did this happen?

On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m. local time, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake ruptured a 500-kilometer-long fault zone off the northeast coast of Japan. Its epicenter was 130 kilometers off Sendai, Honshu; it occurred at a relatively shallow depth of 32 kilometers. The temblor violently shook northeast Honshu for six minutes, and collapsed its coastline by one meter.

17 May 2011

Benchmarks: May 31, 1889: Johnstown flood kills thousands

“It seemed to me as if all the destructive elements of the Creator had been turned loose at once in that awful current of water.” That’s how Col. Elias Unger, president of the corporation that maintained a dam and resort property called the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, described the water unleashed on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, when a dam at the club broke 23 kilometers above Johnstown, Pa. A little more than an hour later, a wall of water reached the town. In all, more than 2,200 people died in what is known as the Johnstown Flood.

02 May 2011

Benchmarks: March 18, 1925: Tri-state twister kills 695 people

On March 18, 1925, the U.S. Weather Bureau’s forecast for the Midwest was not pleasant, but not unusual for early spring: rain and strong, shifting winds. By the end of the day, that simple forecast would prove devastatingly understated. A tornado, or a family of tornadoes, created a path of destruction that stretched from Missouri to Indiana, killing nearly 700 people, destroying 15,000 homes, and forever changing tornado awareness in the country.
 
02 Mar 2011

Deadly tornadoes

Even with improved warning technology, tornadoes remain a deadly threat. Below is a list of some of the deadliest storms throughout the 20th century.
 
02 Mar 2011

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