Unnatural Disasters

-Steve.  Green Beetle, LLC

Emergency preparedness takes many forms.  Youtube videos, internet forums and TV programs showcase a wide variety catastrophes, philosophies and personalities – from those who are looking for a safe place to ride out a temporary power outage to individuals planning for the literal end of the world.   Here is a short list of some events I found people stockpiling goods for in the last 3 weeks:

  1. Social Unrest
  2. Financial collapse and/or hyperinflation
  3. Meteor impact
  4. Earth’s electromagnetic pole shifting
  5. EMP attack
  6. Solar Flare
  7. Chinese hackers / power grid failure
  8. Dirty Bomb
  9. Melting Ice Caps

Quite a list.  No matter how unlikely some of these disasters seem – and a few of these sound pretty improbable – many of us are drawn to the notion we will see at least one of them in our lifetimes.  Why?

In some cases we have erroneous perceptions of the world that make certain events seem more likely than they are (and the truly cataclysmic events seem more survivable than they are).

Second, they capture our imagination because the consequences of such events are so profound that no matter how unlikely they may be we can hardly put them aside.

I suspect the third reason is that, being human, we are all subject to the dark recesses of the human brain and all turmoil within. That’s right, we’re all a little nuts!  Psychologists offer several theories as to why our minds may need, seek out or reinforce our worry over the improbable or in some cases the unreasonable.

Does that mean preparing for the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it is irrational?  I don’t think so.  Perspective is nice so let’s take a look!

But where to start.  Although one electrically disruptive solar flare has occurred in the last 200 years, the most historically validated concern from the above list is probably “social unrest”.  From recent recorded history here are a few examples of western civilization’s geopolitical nightmares and social unrest:

  • London riots 2011.  6 dead and $500 million in damages.
  • United States Wall Street Bombing 1920.  38 dead.
  • Detroit Riots 1962.  43 dead.  $500 million in damages.
  • Greece Riots 2008-2011.  50 dead?  Hundreds of $ millions in damages.
  • 1992 Los Angeles riots.  52 dead.  $450 million in damages.
  • 1863 New York Draft Riots. 120 dead.
  • Various U.S. race riots.  Hundreds dead.
  • United States September 2001 terrorist attacks.  2,973 dead.
  • 1865-1877 Klu Klux Clan.  3000 dead in organized political violence.
  • Trail of Tears. 4,000 dead.
  • Mexican Drug War 2006 – current.  Estimated 50,000 dead.
  • French Revolution 1787.  250,000 dead.
  • Spanish Civil War 1936. 365,000 dead.
  • US Civil War.  625,000 dead, 2% of the US population. Untold damages.
  • Expulsion of Germans after WWII.  2,000,000 dead.
  • World War I. 15,000,000 dead.
  • World War II. 75,000,000 dead. The Holocaust.  Many millions displaced. Untold damages.

In historical terms, social unrest and geopolitical turmoil are real, not uncommon (even in western civilization) and can be extremely bad.  To even consider social unrest in the eastern world or Africa is an unending task.  The latter half of the 20th century brought more than 15,000,000 deaths in Africa alone due to geopolitical and ethnic violence.

But as relatively common as geopolitical and social events seem one doesn’t have to wait 40-50 years for the next major man-made disaster to come around to get into trouble!  Let’s look at tragedies so frequent we hardly give them any credit, so natural that we “unnaturally” ignore them.  Natural disasters.

The National Weather Service says that in 2010 the United States experienced 485 weather related deaths.  That’s 485 more than EMPs, pole shifting, solar flares, meteor strikes, Chinese hackers and melted ice caps combined.

In fact, when we look at the recent history of natural disasters in the west, we see that mother nature is a b#@!*:

Major Volcanoes

  • AD 79.  Pompeii is buried in 25 feet of volcanic ash.  10,000 dead.
  • 1631 Mt Vesuvius. 6,000 dead.
  • 1783 Laki, Iceland volcano eruption.  9,350 dead.
  • 1877 Cotapoxi, Ecuador.  1,000 dead.
  • 1915 Avezzano, Italy. 29,000 dead.
  • 1980 Mt St Helens, USA. 57 people dead.
  • 1982 El Chichon, Mexico. 3,000 dead.
  • 1985 Nevado Del Ruiz, Columbia. 25,000 dead.

*The Yellowstone Supervolcano here in the US has had 3 super-eruptions over the last 2 million years, each one produced a deadly cloud of volcanic ash and glass that blanketed much of the midwest.  Smaller eruptions and geothermal disruptions occur more frequently, the last one about 13,000 years ago created a 5 kilometer crater.


  • 1693 Sicily, Italy. 60,000 dead.
  • 1775 Portugal.  100,000 dead.
  • 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. 3,000 dead.  $9.5 billion in damages.
  • 1908 Messina, Italy. Earthquake and tsunami. 100,000 dead.
  • 1929 Canada earthquake and tsunami.  28 dead.
  • 1946 Aelutian Island earthquake/tsunami.  155 dead.
  • 1964 Alaska, California, Oregon. E-quake/tsunami. 115 dead. $1.8 billion damages.
  • 1970 Peru. 70,000 dead.
  • 1972 Veracruz, Mexico.  1,200 dead.
  • 1985 Mexico City, Mexico. 50,000 dead.
  • 1989 New Castel, Australia.  13 dead.  $4 billion in damages.
  • 1994 California. 33 dead.
  • 1999 Oaxaca, Mexico,  35 dead.
  • 2010 Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 400,000 dead.

*Though it occurred in the Far East one must mention the 2011 Tohoku, Japan Earthquake disaster.  This earthquake and subsequent tsunami were responsible for over 19,000 dead or missing as well as $34 billion in damages.  Not to mention an exploded nuclear power plant in Fukushima and the resultant radiation leak there.

US Heat Waves and Blizzards 1900 – present. Partial list.

  • 1913 Great Lakes Blizzard.  250 dead.
  • 1920 North Dakota Blizzard.  20 dead.
  • 1922 Knickerbocker Blizzard. 98 dead.
  • 1936 Great Heat Wave of 1936.  5,000 dead.
  • 1940 Armistice Day Blizzard.  144 dead.
  • 1947 Blizzard of 1947.  77 dead.
  • 1950 Great Appalachian Storm.  353 dead.
  • 1955 Los Angeles Heat Wave.  946 dead.
  • 1967 Chicago Blizzard.  27 dead.
  • 1969 Nor-easter Storm.  98 dead.
  • 1972 New York Heat Wave.  900 dead.
  • 1977 Blizzard of 1977, New York.  24 Dead.
  • 1978 Northeastern US Blizzard. 100 dead.
  • 1980 Southern United States. 1,700 dead.
  • 1988 North American Heat Wave. 4,500 dead.
  • 1991 Halloween Blizzard. 22 dead.
  • 1992 Nor-easter.  19 dead.
  • 1993 North American Storm Complex. 312 dead.
  • 1995 Chicago Heat Wave. 750 dead.
  • 1996.  North American Blizzard. 154 dead.
  • 1999 Midwest United States. 271 dead.
  • 2006 North American Heat Wave. 220 dead.
  • 2007 North American Blizzard. 37 dead.
  • 2008 North American Blizzard. 13 dead.

*The European Heat Wave of 2003 is said to have claimed nearly 30,000 lives.

Worst US Hurricanes  1900-present. 

  • 1900 Galveston Hurricane.  8,500 dead. $99 billion in damages.
  • 1910 Galveston Hurricane.  400 dead. $68 billion in damages.
  • 1915 Galveston and Louisiana. 215 dead.
  • 1919 Florida Keys Hurricane. 778 dead.
  • 1926 Miami Hurricane.  370 dead.  $157 billion in damages.
  • 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane. 2,500.  $800 million in damages.
  • 1935 Labor Day Hurricane. 408 dead.
  • 1940 Georgia Hurricane.  50 dead.
  • 1938 New England Hurricane.  700 dead.  $41 billion in damages.
  • 1957 Audrey. 416 dead.
  • 1960 Donna. 300 dead? $41 billion in damages.
  • 1961 Carla.  Central Texas. 46 dead.
  • 1969 Camille.  253 dead.
  • 1992 Andrew.  58 dead.  $27 billion in damages.
  • 2005 Hurricane Katrina. 1,836 dead. $81 billion in damages
  • 2005 – present Hurricanes. Hundreds dead.  $ billions in damages.

US Tornadoes 1900-present

  • Too numerous to count.  Here is one list by state.  Note that tornadoes occur in all 50 states, even Alaska and occur in relatively high numbers every year. At their worst they have killed hundreds of people at a time.  They are able to move 3,000 lb safes several blocks and throw cars through the air.  Powerful.

Deadly US Wildfires

  • 1910 Great Wildfire of 1910.  86 dead.
  • 1918 Cloquet Fire. 400 dead.
  • 1947 The great Fires of 1947. 16 dead.
  • 1949 Mann Gulch Fire. 13 dead.
  • 1953 Rattlesnake Fire. 15 dead.
  • 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm. 25 killed.  3200 homes burned.
  • 1994 South Canyon Fire.  15 killed.
  • 2001 30 Mile Fire. 4 dead.
  • 2002 Hayman Fire. 9 dead. 
  • 2003 Old Fire.  11 dead. 933 homes burned
  • 2003 Cedar Fire. 24 dead. 3600 homes burned.
  • 2006 Esperanza Fire.  5 dead.
  • 2007 California Wildfires of 2007.  9 dead. 1500 homes burned.
  • 2011 Slave Lake Wildfire.  1 dead.  420 houses burned. $1.8 billion in damages.

This list represents the US wildfires with known fatalities since 1900.  In many of the fires all fatalities were firefighters – God rest their heroic soles. The death toll here is not staggering but the wildfire’s ability to cause mass evacuations and destroy property make them a serious threat.  Each wildfire can claim hundreds of thousands of acres and some burn for over a year.  In fact, the total estimated land consumed by wildfires since 1900 may be over 11 million acres.

US Floods

Making lists are wearing me out!  Suffice it to say that since 1900 there’s been roughly 2 to 7 large scale, deadly floods per decade in the United States. Here are the locations of some:

One of deadliest and costliest floods of the 20th century was in the Mississippi Valley in 1927.  It killed 500 people, destroyed 70,000 homes and displaced 600,000 individuals!

Unnatural Disasters

I wouldn’t know how to factor in deaths from winter storm power outages or weather related driving but you get the idea.  Ask yourself if you’re ready for super bad weather.    For example, is your current emergency preparedness plan to escape a dirty bomb in the city by dying in a bug-out RV or mobile home located in Tornado Alley?  Is your rendezvous location in a flood plain?  Do any of your plans include storage or shelter near a hurricane prone coast or below sea level?  Might you end up with 45lbs on your back in 107 degree heat?

No matter how we are preparing or what we are preparing for we need a plan for the disaster most likely to affect us and chances are that’s a run of the mill, un-sexy and boring (but potentially deadly) natural disaster.  Being ready for the end of the world is not irrational.  But not planning for mother nature’s nastiest may be.

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