Earth Science: The 18 Deadliest Weather Hazards in America

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Every season, a multitude of natural disasters hits the U.S. From mudslides to avalanches, these hazards cause millions of dollars in damage and affect families nationwide. Sadly, these disasters are often fatal.

The World Meteorological Organization defines natural hazards as "severe and extreme weather and climate events that occur naturally in all parts of the world." Using data collected from the National Weather Service, the experts at WeatherDB researched 18 natural hazards that occur annually. We've ranked this list according to which ones caused the most fatalities between 2005 and 2014.

As winter sets in, it might help to know what Mother Nature has in store.

#18. Dust Storm

Average Annual Injuries: 8
Average Annual Crop Damage: $805,000
Average Annual Property Damage: $811,000

The U.S. has not been affected by extremely perilous dust storms since the infamous Dust Bowl of the 1930s, which turned thousands of acres of crops into fine, brown dust. From 2005 to 2014, fatalities caused by dust storms averaged out to less than one per year. However, increased problems from dust storms might arise as climate change worsens.

#17. Ice

Average Annual Fatalities: 2
Average Annual Injuries: 2
Average Annual Crop Damage: $29,000
Average Annual Property Damage: $285 Million

Ice obviously creates hazardous conditions, particularly on paved roads. Things can become especially dangerous when drivers do not have the appropriate vehicle or experience driving in such conditions.

#16. Mud Slide

Average Annual Fatalities: 2
Average Annual Injuries: 3
Average Annual Crop Damage: $2 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $29.4 Million

Mud slides have the potential to do millions of dollars worth of damage when they tear apart foundations and rapidly engulf highways. In 2005, the sleepy, coastal town of La Conchita, Calif., experienced the deadliest mud slide of the decade. After nearly 15 inches of rain fell in two weeks, an entire hillside violently cascaded toward the sea. The event destroyed 36 homes and killed 10 people.

#15. Tsunami

Average Annual Fatalities: 3
Average Annual Injuries: 13
Average Annual Crop Damage: $2,000
Average Annual Property Damage: $13.9 Million

Tsunamis are not as common in the U.S. as they are in tropical countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. While the worst tsunami to hit American soil claimed 32 lives in 2009, this pales in comparison to the Indian Ocean Tsunami, which killed nearly 230,000 people in over 15 countries in late December 2004.

#14. Rain

Average Annual Fatalities: 3
Average Annual Injuries: 12
Average Annual Crop Damage: $37.2 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $43.4 Million

Between 2005 and 2014, rain caused fewer than 10 deaths per year. While rain is essential for many things, it causes almost as much damage to crops as it does to properties annually.

#13. Fire Weather

Average Annual Fatalities: 6
Average Annual Injuries: 67
Average Annual Crop Damage: $7.41 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $500 Million

Annually, forest fires destroy numerous structures and crops, but usually people are able to escape before it becomes deadly. The exception was in 2013 when the Yarnell Hill Fire in Yarnell, Ariz. killed 19 firefighters and burned over 8,000 acres.

#12. Coastal Storm

Average Annual Fatalities: 8
Average Annual Injuries: 4
Average Annual Crop Damage: $160,000
Average Annual Property Damage: $3.23 Billion

Coastal storms are defined as "localized heavy flooding due to storm surge caused by a tropical cyclone which poses a threat to life and/or property." Hurricane Sandy was actually considered a coastal storm when it hit land in 2012. Many unstable structures collapsed and emergency services had a difficult time reaching victims as roads were flooded or wiped out entirely.

#11. Avalanche

Average Annual Fatalities: 16
Average Annual Injuries: 12
Average Annual Property Damage: $291,000

Avalanches have a high fatality rate in the U.S.; the National Weather Service reported that there were 164 avalanche fatalities between 2005 and 2014, compared to 124 injuries. This is probably because first responders have a difficult time reaching injured mountaineers in remote areas and lifesaving help often arrives too late.

#10. Winter Storm

Average Annual Fatalities: 19
Average Annual Injuries: 184
Average Annual Crop Damage: $5.57 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $328 Million

Winter storms encompass a multitude of threats including snow, ice, wind and cold temperatures. Luckily, they are much more likely to cause injury instead of death. The winter of 2014 was merciless in the Midwest. It brought frequent, tumultuous blizzards and a record number of sub-zero temperature days.

#9. High Wind

Average Annual Fatalities: 25
Average Annual Injuries: 67
Average Annual Crop Damage: $29.7 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $633 Million

Unlike thunderstorm winds, high winds can occur in any weather. Wind sustaining a speed of at least 40 mph, or gusts of 58 mph or higher, is considered a weather hazard. Wind itself is not usually incredibly dangerous, but debris careening into traffic or buildings claims lives annually.

#8. Thunderstorm Wind

Average Annual Fatalities: 27
Average Annual Injuries: 255
Average Annual Crop Damage: $64.9 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $547 Million

Thunderstorm wind is defined as “a thunderstorm with hail 1 inch or larger and/or winds 58 mph or greater.” Hail and high wind during a thunderstorm can be very dangerous, deaths and injuries usually involve automobile collisions.

#7. Cold

Average Annual Fatalities: 29
Average Annual Injuries: 20
Average Annual Crop Damage: $463 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $23.5 Million

Many of us look forward to cuddling inside when the seasons change and the days become shorter. Coats and sweaters help most people keep the cold at bay, so it may be surprising to learn that cold weather exposure kills people annually. An especially brutal winter occurred in 2014; 43 people died from cold exposure, including two people who were shoveling snow outside their homes in Chicago.

#6. Lightning

Average Annual Fatalities: 32
Average Annual Injuries: 192
Average Annual Crop Damage: $165,000
Average Annual Property Damage: $52.1 Million

While the odds of getting struck by lightning really are about one in a million, it is the sixth deadliest natural hazard because lightning is more likely to be fatal than simply leaving a scratch or putting you in the hospital. The human body cannot withstand the extreme surge of electricity as cardiac muscles burst when lightning sears through the body.

#4. Rip Current

Average Annual Fatalities: 51
Average Annual Injuries: 41
Average Annual Property Damage: $26.6 Million

Rip currents are defined as "waves that disperse along the beach causing water to become trapped between the beach and a sandbar or other underwater feature. The water converges into a narrow, river-like channel moving away from the shore at high speed.” This aquatic phenomenon drowns dozens of people every year. The best thing you can do if you get caught in a rip current? Don’t panic, and see if your feet can touch the sea floor, often the water is shallower than you think.

#5. Flood

Average Annual Fatalities: 71
Average Annual Injuries: 62
Average Annual Crop Damage: $474 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $2.87 Billion

Like tsunamis, floods cause more damage in tropical countries near the equator. However, the U.S. is affected by floods annually, particularly in Southern states like Texas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Usually, floods become fatal when a surge of rapidly moving water violently smashes cars and debris towards unprepared onlookers.

#3. Tropical Storm/Hurricane

Average Annual Fatalities: 105
Average Annual Injuries: 18
Average Annual Crop Damage: $291 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $10.1 Billion

Of course, the worst hurricane in recent memory was Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which wiped out entire neighborhoods in New Orleans and led to various accusations about the government’s apathetic approach to assistance. Many scientists argue that hurricanes will become increasingly violent as a result of climate change.

#2. Tornado

Average Annual Fatalities: 110
Average Annual Injuries: 1,265
Average Annual Crop Damage: $21.3 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $2.15 Billion

In reality, tornadoes do not just drop in and send us to Oz. Tornadoes wreak havoc on buildings and crops and kill people. According to NOAA, 2011 was one of the most active tornado years with 1,691 tornadoes reported. The most destructive of all was the tornado that flattened the town of Joplin, Mo., and killed 153 people.

#1. Heat

Average Annual Fatalities: 124
Average Annual Injuries: 980
Average Annual Crop Damage: $50.5 Million
Average Annual Property Damage: $2.4 Million

While most of us eagerly await summer sunshine and warm weather, heat has a dark side. Heat is the deadliest of all natural hazards, perhaps because people do not realize just how dangerous it can be. For the elderly and very young, extreme heat conditions can rapidly cause dehydration and cardiac arrest. Heat also claims the lives of numerous pets left in boiling hot cars. For the sake of grandma and your furry friends, use the A/C and crack the windows when needed.

Research Weather Hazards, History and Forecast on WeatherDB

 

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