HAZARDS

hazards

Voices: Making tough decisions in a changing climate

World leaders are beginning to realize that planning for and adapting to our changing climate must become a priority of national governments. But what does that mean, in practical terms, for planning and policymaking, and for the day-to-day business of government? Do standard decision-making practices need to change? If so, how?

07 May 2012

Benchmarks: May 15, 1909: The Northern Great Plains earthquake

In Culbertson, Mont., at a quarter past nine on a Saturday evening, Ralph Bush and H.G. Walsh were resting in the third-floor apartment of the Reed Cash Grocery when the floor began to rock, vibrating a small penknife right off their table, and sending a candle lamp clattering to the floor. At the nearby Evans Hotel, confusion reigned as the quake shook the two-story brick building, causing frightened guests to flee into the streets. On the second story of the Farmers & Merchants bank, a piano player was entertaining a social gathering at the home of Professor Dale when the shaking sent a vase crashing to the floor. The 15 seconds of quivering was so pronounced at Skelley’s barbershop that, “It rang up a 50-cent cash sale on the cash register, and it has been keeping me guessing how I can balance the darned thing,” Skelley told a reporter from the Culbertson Republican.
 
02 May 2012

Down to Earth With: Volcanologist Stephen Sparks

From the Caribbean to Iceland to the Andes, volcanologist Stephen Sparks has spent a lifetime studying volcanoes. As a professor of geology at the University of Bristol in England for more than 20 years, Sparks has devoted much of his time to figuring out where the next eruption will occur and how to respond to it. His latest effort is a project that will connect experts and technology in a global network to improve volcanic risk assessment.

13 Apr 2012

Foretelling next month's tornadoes

Tornadoes are notoriously difficult to forecast, with often deadly results: In 2011, tornadoes in the U.S. killed more than 550 people, a higher death toll than in the past 10 years combined. Now a new study of short-term climate trends offers a new approach to tornado forecasting that may give people in tornado-prone regions as much as a month of forewarning that twisters may soon be descending.

02 Apr 2012

Benchmarks: April 1, 1946: Hawaii tsunami ushers in a Pacific-wide warning system

On the morning of April 1, 1946, children were on their way to school in the small peninsula community of Laupahoehoe on the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). Curious about the fish that were flopping around in the sand on the beach, the students were too busy to notice the ocean sucking all the water out of the bay. Minutes later, a large wave — about 15 meters high — struck the peninsula and swept 16 children and five teachers out to sea.
 
01 Apr 2012

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

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