Natural Disasters

Unpredictable forces of nature like tornadoes and hurricanes can have a devastating impact on humans and our environment. Learn how natural disasters work and how science aims to better predict them.

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We know where major fault lines crisscross the Earth and where about 80 percent of the world's earthquakes occur; it's the "when" that seismologists have valiantly struggled with. Why?

By Robert Lamb

I read 'How Floods Work,' but I still have a question: Why are there so many more floods now? It seems like there are floods all the time, and it didn't used to be that way. Is it raining more?

Earthquakes and their resulting aftershocks can be devastatingly destructive. Earthquakes are caused when a fault in the Earth's crust slips, which releases energy waves in the ground. Find a list of 12 of the most destructive earthquakes in history.

By the Editors of Publications International, Ltd.

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Mount Vesuvius, located near Naples, Italy, is one of the world's most iconic active volcanoes, renowned for its historic eruption that buried Pompeii. Discover its history, significance, and natural beauty.

By Cristen Conger

Folks in Montana usually expect snow or rain to fall from the sky, not ash. But the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington flung ash across state lines. What is this gritty, gray stuff?

By Robert Lamb

If the big one struck, would you be ready? No? Then start reading and stocking up on food, water and other essential supplies. And hurry up. For some of you, it's not "if" but "when."

By Jacob Silverman

Human activities (such as leaving a campfire unattended, discarding lit cigarettes, debris burning and intentional arson) are among the top causes of wildfires.

By Jessika Toothman & Yara Simón

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At some point in your life, a coach may have enthusiastically told you to "fight fire with fire." Coach, of course, was speaking metaphorically. Do firefighters actually employ this strategy?

By Robert Lamb

Volcanoes are some of nature's most awe-inspiring displays, with everything from exploding mountaintops to rivers of lava. Learn how all the different types of volcanoes work.

By Tom Harris

An earthquake is one of the most terrifying phenomena that nature can dish up. We generally think of the ground we stand on as "rock-solid" and completely stable. An earthquake can shatter that perception instantly, and often with extreme violence.

By Tom Harris & Patrick J. Kiger

We tend to think of the ground beneath our feet as terra firma, but sometimes it's as stable as a house of cards. What happens when the Earth opens up to swallow homes, cars and people?

By Jacob Silverman

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Do scientists really think a massive earthquake could break California in two?

How often have you watched a weather forecaster point to a spiral-shaped cloudy mass with a sense of dread and fascination? What fuels these ferocious storms?

By Marshall Brain, Craig Freudenrich, Ph.D. & Robert Lamb

Lightning is an incredible force of nature. And like many natural phenomena, lightning is not always what it seems. Go behind the mystery and learn what's really going on when lightning strikes.

By John Zavisa & Jesslyn Shields

There are obvious craters on Earth (and the moon) that are evidence of a long history of massive objects hitting planet Earth. But what would happen if an asteroid hit Earth today?

By Marshall Brain & Sarah Gleim

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Learn how avalanches form, how long you can stay alive while buried under an avalanche and what steps you can take to survive.

By Tracy V. Wilson

The wall of water that struck northern Japan on March 11 claimed more than nearly 16,000 lives. While the human and cultural extents of this natural disaster are difficult to grasp, we can explain the physical properties that led to it.

By Robert Valdes, Nathan Halabrin & Robert Lamb

The raging wildfires in southern California have claimed lives and destroyed hundreds of homes. Learn how wildfires start and spread, and find out what firefighters do to battle the blaze.

By Kevin Bonsor

Flooding has claimed more lives than any other natural disaster. Find out how a gentle stream becomes a raging torrent.

By Tom Harris

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Mother Earth seems to have a love/hate thing going on with humans. While the planet we call home has all the essentials we need for life, it also has some nasty — and deadly — surprises.

By Nathan Chandler

The Americas have been hit with some major hurricanes throughout the decades. But which were the worst ones in history?

By Chris Opfer & Sarah Gleim

It sounds simple enough. A wildfire is burning in your immediate area, so you turn from it and run. But getting away from a fire on foot may not be as easy as you think.

By Alison Cooper

In the movies it looks so easy. A team of scientists are working near the crater of a volcano when it suddenly erupts. They jump in their vehicle and outrace the surging lava flow to safety. In reality, it just doesn't happen that way.

By Alison Cooper

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Have you ever watched a waterspout move over the ocean or a lake from what you thought was a safe distance? Don't get too comfortable next time. Waterspouts and tornadoes are closely related.

By Kate Kershner

Are you safer from tornadoes if you live in a city? Would Dorothy have ended up in Oz if she lived in New York rather than Kansas? Let's separate fact from fiction.

By Kate Kershner