I chose to write my case study on the Soufriere Hills volcano which is located on the island of Montserrat. I have always been fascinated by volcanic eruptions and wanted to learn more about the physical processes that cause such explosions to occur. The Soufrière Hills volcano is a complex stratovolcano which formed at the crossing of the Atlantic tectonic plate and the Caribbean plate with several lava domes forming its summit. In French, Soufrière translates to sulphur outlet. Soufrière Hills forms the northern portion of the miniature sized Island of Montserrat in the British Lesser Antilles. After a long period of dormancy, it became active again in 1995 as a new lava dome was built and has continued to erupt since. Due to its large scale eruptions, more than half of Montserrat has been left uninhabitable. The capital city of Plymouth was destroyed and caused widespread evacuations throughout the region. Nearly two-thirds of the population abandoned the island. The physical processes that caused the disaster involve the andesitic nature of the volcano, periods of lava dome growth, and dome collapse which resulted in pyroclastic flows, ash venting, and explosive eruptions. The island of Montserrat is built almost entirely of volcanic rocks. In size it is sixteen kilometers in length from north to south and ten kilometers in width from east to west. The island consists of andesitic lavas produced by dome-forming eruptions. The South Soufriere Hills are composed of basaltic-andesite rocks. Pyroclastic flows and fragments of volcanic rock ejected by explosions are the most significant hazards. Pyroclastic flows consist of fragments of hot lava and volcanic ash which move at high speeds of over sixty miles per hour or one hundred kilometers per hour. These explosions are intense and can cause a great deal of destruction and even death to those near it. Fragments of rock that are dispersed around the vicinity of the volcano can cause injury to humans as well as extensive property damage.

Image result for soufriere hills volcano eruption


About half of the island of Montserrat, specifically the volcanic region, is now a designated exclusion zone. The volcano still remains active although it has not erupted since 2010. Although the tourism industry on the island was ruined during the aftermath of the natural disaster, it has recently experienced growth due to the popularity of the volcano site. The most recent eruption occurred in February of 2010 due to a collapse of the lava dome.  Two explosions and numerous pyroclastic flows caused extensive damage to buildings. Since this eruption, there has been only ash venting and fumaroles. Today the Soufriere Hills volcanic activity sits at a low hazard level of two with falling rocks and frequent earthquakes. An observatory for volcanic activity was built to better monitor the site. There was construction of new roads as well as a new airport. The island people have even started to return to Montserrat with the decrease in volcanic activity.

Case Study Summary_ Giuseppe

On February 7, 2009, now known as Black Saturday, the people of Victoria, Australia were warned of a record setting heat wave with temperatures of up to 115℉, or 46℃. These extreme temperatures came at the wrong time, as the vegetation in the area had mostly dried up due to a long standing drought. Winds of up to 56 miles per hour (90 km/hr) only added fuel to these literal fires, and the combination of the dry vegetation, the extreme temperatures, and the intense winds led to 47 different major fires. 

Map of Victoria, Australia

It was a human error that started the most deadly of the 47 fires in Victoria, as a faulty power line sparked a fire that would claim 119 lives. The location of these flames was only 37 miles north of Melbourne, one of the major cities in Australia, and the capital city of the state of Victoria. These flames were quickly blown over a nearby highway and into a forest igniting a large fire ball. Once this fireball was ignited it was too late for fireman to try and contain the flames and they too were forced to flee from the scene. This fire, renamed the Kilmore East fire, then spread quickly due to steep slopes and intense winds, racing through towns catching residents by surprise. While some residents tried to escape the flames in their cars, many were trapped in their homes. Unfortunately because of the fire’s size and temperature, even those that did manage to get on the road did not get very far as they were overtaken by the fire that reached 328 feet above the tree line and was hot enough to kill from 984 feet of radiant heat.

This map shows all of the land burned by wildfires in Victoria, Australia in the year 2009 alone. It is safe to say that the population was aware of what these fires were. It was the building codes and the warning systems- human errors which lead to so many deaths. However these human errors have been corrected as the Country Fire Authority’s website now requires better building codes, and offers information on ways to mitigate and prepare for fires as well as community programs.




I chose to study the 2003 heatwave in France. During the summer of 2015, I lived in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. There I lived through the most extreme temperatures I had ever experienced (without A/C and in a 3 story walk-up apartment!). This was the second hottest summer on record after 2003. While I was there I would complain about the unbearable heat, but locals would tell me that it was nothing like the canicule of 2003.

The summer of 2003 was Europe’s hottest summer on record since 1543. Unusually high temperatures combined with a number of social factors turned this heat wave into a particularly deadly disaster, making it one of the ten deadliest natural disasters in Europe for the last 100 years and the worst in the last 50 years. All of Western Europe was affected, but France suffered the highest concentration and the second highest total number of casualties, where nearly 15,000 deaths were recorded between August 1st and 20th, 2003.

Urban centers, particularly Paris, experienced the highest number of fatalities. This is mainly attributed to the urban heat island effect. A combination of lack of vegetation, decreased air flow, and heat absorbent concrete can make cities significantly hotter than their surrounding area.

The single most vulnerable group were the elderly. A reported 82.5% of deaths correspond to people age 75 and above, and the average age of fatality was 85.1 years. Social connectivity also  had a major impact on mortality rate. It is estimated that over 90% of heatwave victims lived alone, and 25% of victims had no family or friends. In general, those hit the hardest by the heatwave were lower income elders living alone, although France did see a large number of deaths in retirement homes as well.

The timing of the heatwave was a huge factor. In August, many French families go on vacation, often for multiple weeks. This meant that people living alone or people with fewer resources were left behind at home without neighbors. This ties back into the social connectivity factor: a neighbor will often notice when something is wrong (i.e., newspapers left outside the door, no sighting in multiple days, etc). Sadly, without neighbors to check in on them, many people died alone in their apartments, and many bodies were not even discovered until vacationers returned home weeks later and smelled something wrong.

There was mass public outrage as death tolls were released to the media, and many people blamed the government for inaction. Health Ministry officials resigned, and the government devised a mitigation framework to prevent a heatwave from escalating to such a disaster in the future. For example, now vulnerable neighborhoods have cooling stations, and retirement homes are required to have air conditioning. Most importantly authorities now use an alert system that predicts a heatwave three days in advance and broadcasts repetitive warning messages through the media. Another shift in their heat-related emergency preparedness is the change in public perception. After witnessing the horrors of 2003, French citizens know to take heat seriously and to look out for each other.


The Witch Fire of 2007

I chose this particular hazard because I was actually living San Diego at the time this fire was occurring and got a week off school because the air quality was deemed too poor for the school system to make the students go.

The fire itself lasted from October 21st, 2007 to November 6th, 2007. Figure 1 at the bottom of the document is a map of the area affected by the fire. The effects of the fire are listed below (Cal Fire, 2007):

  • Nearly 200,000 thousand acres of land were burned throughout the duration of the wildfire in San Diego County.
  • Highway 78 was closed from Ramon to Escondido—both localities within San Diego County—due to damage from the fires.
  • Overall, 1,125 residential structures and 509 outbuildings were completely destroyed.
  • 77 residential structures and 25 outbuildings were damaged.
  • By the culmination of the fire, 224 firefighters were involved in combating it with 25 total engines.
  • 40 of these firefighters were injured
  • There were only 2 total fatalities, both were civilians
  • Responsible for the largest evacuation in the history of San Diego County with more than 500,000 people living in the areas that were evacuated.
  • The total cost in damages to the city itself eventually got up to roughly $18 million.

It is important to understand that this wildfire system was not the only one raging in Southern California at the time. The conditions that contributed to the Witch fire, which included periods of extremely high winds that some reported to be up to 100 mph in certain places, also gave rise to at least 21 other blazes throughout Southern California. Because of this, resources had to be distributed throughout the state and the ability to effectively fight fires in any given area was greatly diminished. There was actually another called the Harris Fire in the more southern portion of San Diego County that was significantly smaller than the Witch but ended up being responsible for 5 total deaths. Those who evacuated were initially held in places like Qualcomm Stadium (where the Chargers play) and high schools outside of the dangerous areas. It is difficult to tell how long people remained in places like this, especially if they were among those who had their homes destroyed by fire.

John Gibbins aerial of fire around Scripps Ranch area.


Case Study Summary _ Fulkerson

My case study is on Hurricane Andrew. I chose this event because I have heard all about it growing up with two meteorologist parents. At the time of its occurrence in August 1992, it was the most destructive hurricane in United States history. It caused major damage in the Bahamas and Louisiana, but the greatest impact was in South Florida, where it made landfall at Category 5 hurricane intensity on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale, with wind speeds up to 165 mph (270 km/h). Passing directly through the town of Homestead, Florida, a city south of Miami, Andrew obliterated entire blocks of homes, in many cases leaving only the concrete foundations. Over 25,000 houses were destroyed in Miami-Dade County alone, and nearly 100,000 more were severely damaged. 65 people were killed and the damage total across the affected regions exceeded $26 billion (1992 USD).

Though Andrew was a small tropical cyclone for most of its lifespan, it caused extreme damage, especially in the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana. The vast majority of the damage was as a result of extremely high winds, although a few tornadoes spawned by Andrew caused considerable damage in Louisiana. Throughout the areas affected, almost 177,000 people were left homeless. Outside of the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana, effects were widespread, although damage was minimal. As a result of damage in Florida and Louisiana, Andrew was listed as the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but is now fourth following Hurricanes Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012), and Ike (2008).

The death toll could have been significantly higher if it wasn’t for such good forecasting and careful monitoring of the storm. Our forecasting abilities have only gotten better since this disaster. After the storm passed, President Bush assessed damage in the Miami-Dade area with then-Governor of Florida Lawton Chiles. Shortly thereafter, Bush declared the region a disaster area, which provided public assistance to victims of the storm. In September 1992, President Bush initially proposed a $7.1 billion aid package to provide disaster benefits, small-business loans, agricultural recovery, food stamps, and public housing for victims of Hurricane Andrew. The cost was later increased to $11.1 billion. The bill, which was the most costly disaster aid package at the time, was passed by Congress as House Resolution 5620 on September 18, and signed into law by President Bush on September 23.

It took nearly 10 years for the region to fully recover from Hurricane Andrew, but as a Homestead resident said in 2012, “We are now much better prepared for hurricanes. After Andrew, the construction standards changed tremendously. We now have one of the most stringent building codes in the country.”

Progression of Hurricane Andrew through the Atlantic and into the U.S.

Damage from Hurricane Andrew


Case Study Summary_Owens

I chose to do my case study on the 1998 Kissimmee, Florida tornado outbreak.  Starting in the late-night hours of February 22 and going into the early morning of February 23, 1998, Kissimme Florida experienced a tornado outbreak that ended up being the deadliest tornado event in Florida history.  Between approximately 11 p.m. and 2:30 a.m. of February 22 and 23 seven tornadoes tore through east-central Florida killing 42 people and injuring more than 260 others.  .  Moving eastward from a surface low pressure located near Mobile, Alabama, was a cold front moving south eastward over the Gulf of Mexico with a line of thunderstorms just ahead of the frontal boundary.  Three supercell thunderstorms formed as the storm line moved ashore from the Gulf of Mexico and interacted with the unstable air and strong wind shear.  Seven unusually strong tornadoes were produced as these supercell thunderstorms moved across Florida.  What made this such a devastating event was that these tornadoes struck at night when people are usually sleeping.  Local officials did issue warnings, but with people turning off their televisions and radios to go to sleep they missed the warnings.  Most of the fatalities from this event were people that live in mobile home parks or RV parks.  Of the 42 deaths caused by the tornadoes, 40 of them were in recreational vehicles, one was in car, and one was in a permanent structure.  The population did not seem to be prepared for these types of storms despite the warnings that were issued.

The local emergency management officials issued timely warnings, even before tornadoes were formed, but as I said earlier most people were asleep at the time or just ignored the warnings.  However the local forecasters were able to call law enforcement and emergency management personnel directly to impart the seriousness of these storms.  Because of this response time was very good, and local residents generally were pleased with the efforts of the emergency response.  Warehouses were set up to accommodate the belongings that survivors had left after the storms.  According to FEMA $22 million of federal funding was given to victims of the outbreak, the greatest dollar amount went towards small business loans.  The rest of the funding went towards debris clean up, water and public utility reconstruction, public building, roads and bridges, and individual and family grants.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management has a Hazard Mitigation Planning section of their Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan.  However while looking through the plan I saw nothing about tornado mitigation, it seems that Florida is still more concerned with the hazards that come with hurricanes than they are about tornadoes.  Many people are still living in Mobile Homes, which are very dangerous during tornado events, and many of them have admitted to knowing very little about what actions to take is another tornado threatens their area.  There doesn’t seem to be very much done for mitigation against tornadoes in Florida, I think this is because Florida experiences a lot of hurricanes and they are surrounded by water so they are more worried about flooding.  Florida seems to be very lacking in their tornado mitigation policies.



The 2011 Mississippi river floods was one  of the most destructive and expensive natural disasters in United States history. The 2011 Mississippi River floods were a result of two massive storm systems that produced record levels of rainfall all across the United States, and a winter that dumped large amounts of snow on the midwest. Floods on the Mississippi occur all the time, but the 2011 Mississippi flood was a 500 year flood. This means that a flood of this size only happens once every 500 years. Although the population along the Mississippi is we aware of the flooding issue, they are still very vulnerable. Many of the areas on the Mississippi are some of the poorest areas in the United states of America. In particular the areas in along the southern Mississippi River. The total death toll from the floods itself are 11 people, however, in the storms preceding the floods, 392 people died. According to the Mississippi River and Tributaries System post flood report, there was an estimated 2.8 Billion dollars in flood damage. 21,000 structures were destroyed. The areas along the mississippi river are some of the poorest areas in the nation, so this flood impacted them more than it would have otherwise. The  Mississippi River and Tributaries System post flood report claims that without the  Mississippi River and Tributaries System, there would have been $234 Billion  in damages and over 1.5 million residential and commercial structures would have been destroyed. I choose this event because i had not even heard about it before, despite it being so destructive, and i wanted to learn more about it.

Floods Spread South along the Mississippi River


Floods Spread South along the Mississippi River


Case Study Summary_Ansari

I chose to write about the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. In my senior year of high school I did a small GIS project on the Oso mudslides of 2013/2014. During that project I found that an overarching factor in those mudslides and their severity was due to the 1980 eruption, and since then I’ve always wanted to know more about it!

On May 18, 1980 at approximately 8:32 am, Mount St. Helens erupted for the first time in over a hundred years. After a series of small earthquakes that started two months prior, that led to landslides that led to flooding that finally led to the eruption. Though it was closely monitored by geologists and volcanologists, Helens took everyone by surprise.

The volcano blew from its side, instead of its top as most would suspect. The result was an incredibly large cloud of ash that encompassed almost three states around Washington.

Since the USGS had watched Helens closely for the two months since the earthquakes started, they were relatively quick to act and clean up and work with the state and federal governments to help the people of Skamania county and its surrounding areas. The death toll today stands at ~57 people.

Today, Helens’ elevation has decreased significantly as shown in the figure above, and is watched even closer now. Because 1980 was the first time it had erupted in over one hundred years, there were no disaster prevention plans in place for Washington state that dealt specifically with volcanoes. Helens, however, gave them a reason to devise a plan. Now, Congress annually funds different Volcano Observatory programs across the United States in hopes of preventing a repeat of 1980.

Case Study Summary_Names

I chose to do my case study on the Oakland wildfire of 1991. It all began because a brush fire started out in the hills of Oakland. Oakland is a pretty big city with many well known companies such as Kaiser Permanente and Pandora radio. Most of the people that live there are very well educated and earn about $61,000 per year on average. The city is located in northern California and is known for wildfires especially in the fall. During the fall, temperatures often average around 104 degrees Fahrenheit with little to no precipitation.

In this wildfire in particular, the fire started off very small and the firefighters were able to contain it very fast and they had thought they put out the flames all the way. Unfortunately the firefighters went home because they thought the fire had been put out enough and they could no longer see since the sun went down. The next morning there were reports that the fire had once again began but took off so fast that the firefighters couldn’t regain control of the wildfire. Because the fire from the day before left a few embers, it cause the pine needles on the trees to heat up and fall to the ground. The pine needles then sparked the fire up once again but this time the hot, dry winds propelled the fire forward. It is reported that during the Oakland wildfire in the hills, houses completely fell to the ground and were overwhelmed with flames in less than 10 minutes. The houses in 1991 were built with mostly wooden frames and had wooden shingles on the roof so the homes were acting practically as fire starters for an already intense wildfire. There are locations during that fire that reached up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Finally around the evening time, firefighters and police officers were able to secure a perimeter, meanwhile 10,000 people were evacuated from the city and 1,000 homes were destroyed. The fire caused more than 1.5 million dollars in damages and was recorded as the worst fire in northern California when comparing lives lost and property damaged.

Many things changed about this city after the fire swept through in 1991. Laws and regulations were created so that homes had to be built to with stand future wildfires or at least not catch on fire quite as easily. There were also more regulations set up to removes non native vegetation and the park service now goes through and removes many of the young Eucalyptus trees because those were said to have pushed the fire forward even more. There were some issues during the fire that also changed the supplies of firefighters. One problem the firefighters faced during the wildfire was that because of the hills and narrow streets, radio communication didn’t always work so they had a hard time communicating with other people. They also weren’t prepared enough to tackle a wildfire rather than a regular fire. There was one more issue the firefighters faced which was the size of the fire hydrants. Some of the hydrants weren’t standard size so people and firefighters couldn’t always connect to the hydrants, which made it more challenging to access water to put the fire out. More non profit organizations also sprang to the ground in hopes to educate people better about wildfires and what to do if one starts near them.

Overall there have been a lot of changes made in this city because the likely hood of wildfires in that area is so common. there were 4 prominent wildfires in Oakland alone throughout the 20th century. Since the Oakland fire of 1991, there have been a few minor fires but all were put out almost immediately and response times were much quicker.


I wrote about the Gujarat Earthquake which occurred on January 26, 2001. Fun fact: that day was also India’s 52nd Independence Day anniversary. I had never heard about this event, I stumbled across it when searching for topics to write about.

The Gujarat quake was a 7.7 magnitude quake which occurred in the morning of January 26, and it lasted for over two minutes. The epicenter of the quake was only 24 km deep, so the seismic waves did not have much time to dissipate before the broke the surface. This quake was the second most devastating quake in all of India’s recorded history, with 20,000 left dead, over 150,000 left injured, and over 400,000 displaced or homeless. The quake was followed by over 400 aftershocks felt all over the Gujarat state, as well as the rest of the country of India. These aftershocks continued for up to two months after the quake. This specific quake was caused by the Indo-Australian plate subjecting beneath the Eurasian plate,  also known as a thrust fault.

There was little to no preparation or mitigation for an earthquake of this size in the Gujarat state, which escalated the amount of damage. After the quake, buildings were found to have been lacking basic structural support, or didn’t meet the local building codes. Some engineers and building managers were found criminally negligent because of this, because of claims that more life could have been saved if the buildings were properly constructed.

Once the Indian government saw the magnitude of the destruction of the Gujarat state, relief aid was administered and help poured in. Once the general emergency phase was complete, the Government of Gujarat instated a new disaster management and preparation program. From this, The Gujarat State Disaster Management Authority was created, and still remains to this day. The authority switched from a pro-disaster oriented intervention to a pro-active prevention, mitigation, and pre disaster preparedness. Citizens are now better aware of hazards that come with a potential earthquake, and even though a quake so large happening again in the Gujarat state is slim, it is important to be prepared for the worst.