My natural disaster was the F4 tornado that hit Edmonton, Alberta, Canada on July 31, 1987, which I selected because a tornado that far north is not very common. July 31, 1987 is better known as Black Friday in Edmonton, as this was the largest tornado to ever hit Edmonton, and the second deadliest in Canadian history. It produced softball sized hail, flooding, and fires. According to the CBC, “The July 31, 1987, Edmonton tornado was the second-deadliest in Canadian history. The statistics were horrific: 27 people killed, 600 injured, 1,700 left homeless, and damage estimated at $300 million.” Edmonton is one of the two largest cities in Alberta, an oil producing province, in which Edmonton handles a lot of the “blue-collar” work involving the oil industry. This means that the population was more vulnerable than other places within the province because of their lower incomes. Within the city, the tornado struck an especially vulnerable population living in a mobile home park, which means that their homes did not hold up as well against the tornado. The CBC reported that 15 of those 27 deaths occurred within this one mobile home park.

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Image Courtesy of the Edmonton Sun:

Emergency efforts were made difficult by the path that the tornado took by hitting highways and destroying bridges. The emergency crews struggled to reach people because of this, and even once people had been reached, the hospital was inaccessible. The Red Cross in Edmonton was not ready for a disaster on this scale, so it was a lot of help from neighbors, friends, and even strangers, that helped to save lives in Edmonton. Restoration was achieved quickly, with call centers and emergency centers being set up promptly. The Red Cross officially ended their operations on August 2, only 2 days after the tornado, implying that the worst was over.

Rebuilding began quickly, as many residents had to build new homes entirely, even if their homes were not completely destroyed, since the structures may not have been stable. Alberta also set up the “Emergency Alert System” soon after Black Friday. Ordinary people would help to alert Environment Canada, the national weather service, about tornadoes that they spotted. Of course, when Doppler Radar came about, this became less important. Edmonton also had a large scale media campaign in 1997 to raise awareness of tornadoes and tornado safety, in case one were to ever strike again. However, the biggest mitigation being done in Edmonton is education. In the local school handbooks it describes proper tornado procedures, which students practice; and many people who were in Edmonton for the tornado are still here sharing their stories, as we approach the 30th anniversary.


This link has an archived news broadcast from that day with footage of the devastation and interviews with local people.

Here is another news archive from CTV that has excellent footage showing the damage as well:


Building Modifications for Wind

This is not a natural hazard, but I heard about this from an old teacher of mine and had it share it!

There is a skyscraper in Taipei called Taipei 101 with 101 floors, and it sits very close to a fault line and is often subject to earthquakes and high winds. The engineers who constructed the building decided to counteract some of the shaking and swaying by putting a massive suspended weight, an 18′ steel sphere weighing 728 tons, within the building (which hangs between floors 87 and 92 and is visible to the public). The idea is that this massive weight and its cables and parts act like “shock absorbers” and reduce the building’s swaying by 40%!

You can see diagrams and watch the sphere in action here:


Wildfire in the Panhandle of Texas

Wildfires in the panhandle of Texas reached 750 square miles as of 2pm on March 16. This has caused at a minimum of $21 million in agricultural damages. According to economist Steve Amosson “damages last week included $6.1 million in lost pastureland; $6.1 million in lost or damaged fencing; $3.8 million in lost buildings; $4 million in livestock deaths; and $1 million for emergency hay and feed.” Among the victims of this fire include many livestock animals: 2,500 cows and 1,900 pigs. This is particularly unfortunate because cattle ranching is a large part of the economy in some parts of Texas. 
A state of emergency was declared in six Texas counties. One rancher in the area described how quickly it came; about two minutes after they spotted it approaching their ranch, it was there. According to an article, the fire was moving about 70mph. The same rancher heard that a young man was killed in a nearby community by the wildfire or its effects.  Texas is very dry and warm, making for great conditions for a wildfire. Looking at the pictures, it seems that this was a surface fire, because many of the trees in the photos are still standing, just scarred, while no grass in any of the photos remains. 

Photo Courtesy of:

Additional Resource:

Avalanche in the Austrian Alps

A deadly avalanche has occurred in the Austrian Alps, killing four skiers on a tour. The avalanche occurred on Jochgrubenkopf mountain which is 8,050 feet high, and it lasted for 2,300 feet creating snow banks that were up to 40 feet deep. According to the BBC, avalanche risks at the time were low, but a layer of fresh snow on top of layers of unstable snow triggered the avalanche. Austrian officials reported that fourteen people have been killed by avalanches in Austria this winter.

The fact that the risk of an avalanche was low goes back to our discussions of risk. Certainly people do not worry about low risks frequently, because there just is not a large chance that those events will occur. Similarly, thousands of people ski worldwide each year, yet very few of those are killed or injured by avalanches. That is to say that even when risk is low, there is always a possibility of that event occurring anyways. To help gain a better understanding of avalanches and what different risk levels look like, a Swiss group has put out several diagrams, pictures, and videos to help education people about avalanches, which is an excellent form of hazard mitigation. Here is the website:


Image courtesy of the BBC.

String of Tornadoes hits the Midwest

Monday and Tuesday this week, several tornadoes and storms have hit the midwest from Oklahoma and Arkansas, as far north as Minnesota and Wisconsin. 28 tornadoes have been confirmed so far, with at least 1 EF-3, a couple EF-2 tornadoes, and several EF-1 tornadoes. These super cell storms have produced hail and caused dangerous travel conditions. A semi-truck was overturned and an airport was shut down due to high winds.

Several homes have been damaged, some of those were completely destroyed. Trees have also been uprooted, and power lines taken down. One of these tornadoes had a track of 36.7 miles. Some of the photos with the article show the process of recovery, as people collect items from the wreckage of a home that has been destroyed. Several people have been injured, but fortunately there have been no fatalities from this storm. Seeing the damage that an EF-2 can cause, it is difficult to imagine what the impact of an EF-5 would look like on a community.

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Severe Storms in the Central US

A system of super-cell thunderstorms hit the central US yesterday and created several tornadoes that killed three people. The storm was very large and affected people from Arkansas, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Even in New York City, there was a lightning strike to the runway which caused a hole and shutdown that particular runway. Many homes have been destroyed by the tornadoes, and even more have been damaged. Thousands are without power, due to downed power lines.

This storm system reached our area today, causing the high winds and the quick downpour seen not long after Wednesday’s Natural Hazards class. Here at Mary Washington, there are many scattered sticks and even a few benches have been knocked over, one by Monroe and another by George Washington hall. The sirens were used this afternoon as well, which I have only heard once prior to this.

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Massive Storm Strikes the UK

A storm dubbed Doris has hit the UK and is wreaking havoc. With high winds, black ice, and downed trees, this storm is posing threats at every corner. Gusts of more than 100mph have been recorded in Liverpool. The wind has claimed the life of a woman hit by the flying debris. Wind has also caused many issues for trains by blowing debris onto the tracks, and is making flights almost impossible at this point in time.

Car accidents have been a problem as well, including crashes with falling trees and overturned buses. Thankfully, the only other casualty in this storm so far has been a woman who was also hit with flying debris. None of the crashes, overturned buses, or falling trees have done any harm to people thus far. Even with several buildings being damaged and reports of building collapse, there remain few casualties. People are to stay indoors if possible, as the storm continues tonight.

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Photo Credit: Danny Lawson

6.7 Earthquake hits the Philippines

On February 10, a 6.7 earthquake hit the Philippines, killing 8 people. 200 more people were injured and 1,000 homes in Surigao were destroyed. Damage was also extensive to other structures, such as schools, bridges, stores, some water pipes and other infrastructure. Surigao City was placed under a state of emergency to provide for the most efficient distribution of assistance including medical aid and food.

137 aftershocks had been experienced as of Sunday, February 12. Even the President of the Philippines was delayed in making it to the city because of damage to the airport. He has pledged financial assistance to those hurt by the earthquake.

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Winter Storm Niko Reaches the Northeast

Winter Storm Niko has hit the northeast, wreaking havoc on major cities like Boston, NYC, and Philadelphia. It has hit at least 9 states including: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Snow emergencies have been declared in Philadelphia and Boston. This storm has brought everything from high winds, ice, snowfall reaching 24″ in 24 hours, and even thundersnow in some places.

The results have been drastic, having already taken the life of a doorman shoveling snow in NYC who fell through a door. The New Jersey Turnpike has had its speed limits reduced to 35mph and the Connecticut State Police have received 600 calls, including those concerning 4 different wrecks, and many semi-trucks turned sideways due to hazardous conditions closed parts of I-95. People became stranded on Long Island and all around NYC as the snow and ice has inhibited travel. 4,000 flights across the country have been cancelled due to Niko. To add insult to injury, one of the de-icing trucks at a Connecticut airport caught fire, as the airport was shut down for several hours.

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Chile Experiences Disastrous Wildfires

Chile has been placed under a state of emergency due to the outbreak of 58 wildfires which has destroyed more than 1,000 homes and killed 11 people. Many foreign countries, as well as several individuals and groups have reached out in order to try to help the victims of the fires. Many countries have also sent money and supplies to aid the fighting of the fires, and have sent trained firefighters. In addition, the Chilean government has recently arranged for four new helicopters to help fight the fires.

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