Earth as we know it is a magnificent, beautiful, yet mysterious place, home to a plethora of creatures, plants, and human life. We constantly search for the answers to our planet’s hidden secrets and daily ask the question “why” to so many of Earth’s features. However, there’s a side to our home world we may never be able to predict, even though we can create the scientific theory.
Natural disasters occur almost everywhere on Earth at any given time, in a myriad of ways. One hardly ever knows when and how these catastrophic events will happen, and we most certainly can’t reasonably prepare for them. With that in mind, researchers are regularly using natural disasters in our history to maybe one day create an equation or breakthrough in predicting disasters before they happen, and in effect saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
Here are five of the deadliest and cataclysmic natural disasters in U.S. history.
51980 Eruption Of Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano of the Cascade Range, found in Skamania County in Washington state. However, it hasn’t always been categorised as “active.” From the 1850s through the first part of 1980, Mount St. Helens was a dormant volcano. At least, until March 20th of that year, when a 4.1 magnitude Earthquake struck underneath the central flank of the volcano, and Mount St. Helen resided dormant no more.
Two months later, on May 18th, at approximately 8:32 AM, a 5.1 magnitude Earthquake hit 1 mile underneath Mount St. Helen’s core. The North Flank of the volcano began to collapse, and chaos ensued. Within seconds, both massive avalanches and the “uncorking” of St. Helens contributed to the rapid destruction seen afterwards. This blast spewed out a 19-mile radius of volcanic debris, and with a swirling plume of ash, forest fires and total darkness consumed surrounding areas.
In total, 57 lives were lost in the immediate aftermath of the 1980 eruption. Along with the casualties; 200 houses, 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway were destroyed. There has been some dispute on the exact death toll at the hands of Mount St. Helens, but rest assured, any case of missing persons and lost human life is tragic, whether it is to nature or not.
Mount St. Helens to this day has remained active, and with the technology, we have now, another deadly eruption without warning is highly unlikely, at least in our lifetime.
4The Dust Bowl
Lost in the discussion of past natural disasters is the infamous Dust Bowl of the United States and Canada in the 1930’s. Due to a particular method of agriculture called dry farming, combining with a severe drought and a multitude of dust storms, the Dust Bowl wreaked havoc across the prairies of the Midwest.
Volatile winds swept up loose soil from the drought-ridden lands, called “black blizzards” and billowed across the country, all the way to Washington D.C. and New York City. These blizzards caused low visibility, destroyed crops, and laid waste to homes and small towns.
At the end of the dust bowl circa. 1939, a total of over 500,000 people were left homeless, with over 350 properties wiped out. In combination with the Great Depression, farmers lost their land due to foreclosed banks and no credit to show for.
The Dust Bowl remains the cause of the largest migration in U.S. history; over 3.5 million people fled their prairie homes, many to California. Although there are no exact statistics, thousands of people died due to malnutrition and dust pneumonia.
Luckily, with advanced agricultural technology and farming practices, another Dust Bowl is highly unlikely. However, with global warming slowly showing its hand on weather-related incidents, who knows the real possibilities of another “black blizzard.”
31906 San Francisco Earthquake
At around 5:12 AM on April 18th, 1906 Northern California endured the devastation of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Seismology was only a developing science at the time, and the Richter scale did not exist, so some researchers believe the exact magnitude could be even higher. The tremor occurred along the San Andreas fault line and was felt from Oregon all the way down to Los Angeles.
In total, over 3,000 people lost their lives, and about 80% of San Francisco was destroyed. This was in part due to large-scale fires that broke out after mains gas ruptures. At the time, the damage was estimated to cost $400 million in repairs, equal to over $10 billion when adjusted for inflation.
Nonetheless, the Bay area of California repaired, and their cities blossomed. Furthermore, efforts such as the San Andreas Fault Observatory at Depth (SAFOD) will help scientists better prepare for large-scale earthquakes along the Pacific Coast.
2Great Galveston Hurricane
The birth of the 20th century saw many natural disasters strike U.S. soil, though none were as costly as the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, currently the deadliest single day event in United States’ History.
Born as a tropical surge off the west coast of Africa, the Galveston Hurricane swept across the Atlantic and struck U.S. landfall on September 8th. The massive typhoon reached Galveston Island as a Category Four storm with wind speeds of up to 145 mph. The mammoth whirlwinds and devastating rainfall contributed to the destruction of the coastal city.
Sadly, the preparation for the Galveston Hurricane was inadequate. The beautiful weather in the area discouraged residents from evacuating, as well as the Weather Bureau in D.C. refusing to issue a “hurricane” warning and their inability to predict the exact severity of what they thought was a minor tropical storm.
In the end, the hurricane claimed the lives of between 6,000 - 12,000 people, destroyed 3,600 residences, and cost the equivalent of $120 billion U.S. dollars. The disaster triggered a better system of alerting cities of tropical storms, and with the advances in meteorology we have today, the type of devastation brought on by the Great Galveston Hurricane is unlikely ever to be witnessed again.
1The Tri-State Tornado
Out of all the disasters mentioned above, the most unpredictable of all is the tornado, the subject of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925, the deadliest single cyclone in U.S. history. The Tri-Stater was one of many tornados during an early spring outbreak on March 18th, 1925. Covering 215 miles through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, the twister in question stretched almost a mile wide and spawned satellite tornadoes around its base, forming a mythical hydra of a storm.
Often debated as being a single funnel or a multi-vortex system, the damage is undisputed. The Tri-State tornado alone killed 695 people, including 72 students. The outbreak overall claimed around 750 lives and injured over 2,000. The tornado itself lasted over 3.5 hours and destroyed 15,000 homes, causing a lasting impact on the reconstruction of the Midwest towns that were affected.
Tornados to this day remain in large part a mystery of mother nature, though efforts have been improved to increase warning windows and protect those in areas susceptible to twisters.
If there’s positivity to draw from natural disasters, it’s the togetherness and humanity brought out in people of the world, neighbours or not. We can come to each other’s side in times of need, and help one another back on our feet, even when mother nature has knocked us down. No disaster is big enough to take that away from us.