The dividing line between a natural disaster, such as an earthquake or a mudslide, and the phenomena we’re going to cover today, is that disasters by definition are rarer, and occur in an isolated manner. That’s why we name storms, we remember the dates of volcanic eruptions, etc. These five terrifying things we’re gonna tell you about? They’re happening all the time.
We end with the good old thunderstorm. Storms can bring needed rain, beautiful lightning displays and a sense of grandeur. Or they can kill you and ruin the land for miles around. In a one-two punch, thunderstorms are the most common causes of both floods and fires. Wet area or wet season? You might have a flood on your hands! Dry as a bone out there? A bit of lighting and you’ve got a conflagration. The thunderstorm is nature’s basic answer to disparate temperatures and pressure systems meeting; its calling cards? Let’s see: hail, lighting, tornadoes, water spouts, flash floods, regular floods, withering wind and more!
4 Hail: All hail… hail
Because it can seriously mess things up. Large hailstones, which are, of course, not stones at all but just chunks of ice, are a fascinating natural phenomena. They are formed when moisture at high altitude freezes and begins to fall to earth, only to be swept back up into the frigid sky, sometimes many times, growing bigger and bigger each time until finally their weight or changing winds allow them to fall. And when they fall, they can cause damage, injury, and even death. Hailstones are extremely dangerous for aircraft, and they can destroy whole fields of crops, not to mention denting car roofs and hoods, cracking windows, and causing concussions. The largest hailstone on record was nearly nine inches across. Take that to the head at terminal velocity and you can call it a day.
How would you like it of one second you were sitting at your kitchen table, the next your whole home was crushed beneath tons and tons of rock and earth? Not much, right? Well, the avoid sinkholes, if you can. While rare, the potential for a sinkhole exists at all times and in many places, especially those overdeveloped by human beings. “Natural” sinkholes are caused by the slow erosion of certain types of rock or soil, especially when bedrock is made up of porous carbonate rock or sandstone. In cities and suburban areas, poor drainage systems or damaged water pipes underground can rapidly wash away subterranean areas, causing sudden sinkholes. In 2010, a sinkhole swallowed up the better part of a city block in Guatemala. In America, Florida and Michigan are the about holeyest states (heh).
2 Iceberg: Augh!
If only the watchmen on the doomed Titanic had shouted as much in time (minus the shriek, of course). Icebergs are such a common part of our cultural lore, largely because of that famous 1912 shipwreck, but indeed they are forces to be reckoned with! These floating islands of ice can weigh millions of tons, thus can impact with colossal force. Hitting an iceberg is the equivalent of running your ship into a mountain, basically. And contrary the teardrop shape most people picture when thinking about an iceberg, they are often irregularly formed, thus the tip may stick out of the sea in one place, while a protrusion awaits a boat’s hull many feet, or even miles, away.
Beware the maelstrom! Plague to both sailor of literature (check out some Jules Verne) and actual mariner alike, a maelstrom is a huge vortex in the sea or ocean. It’s like a drain just hanging out in the middle of open water, waiting to suck you and your boat down to a watery grave. Sort of. Most constant maelstrom’s are actually not much threat to boats, but could definitely ruin a swimmer’s day. They often occur close to coasts where disparate tides meet and are guided by land. But larger, more violent whirlpools are sometimes caused by storms or seismic events. And in one test, the Corryvreckan Maelstrom off the Scottish coast sucked a dummy rigged with a depth meter down some 800 feet underwater!