When you picture a natural disaster in your mind, what do you see? Is it a tornado? A hurricane? Or maybe flooding from intense rain? Yes, those are all perfect examples of natural disasters. But there are some phenomena that we don’t see often in the United States. It doesn’t mean that it can’t happen, but for various reasons, certain disasters are more atypical in the U.S. than other countries.
So what’s a tsunami? In short, it’s when a large volume of water is displaced and returns rapidly, creating massive waves. Tsunamis are rare in the U.S. Typically, the natural disaster is triggered by an underwater earthquake with a magnitude of at least seven or a volcanic eruption. Therefore, a tsunami could be considered part of a cause-and-effect chain reaction natural disaster.
In the U.S., the West Coast is more likely to be at risk for a tsunami than the East Coast. This is because our West Coast is part of what’s known as the “Ring of Fire” — an area of volcanic activity on the floor of the Pacific Ocean bordering the Pacific tectonic plate. Intense activity in this region can easily trigger a tsunami. However, that doesn’t mean that the East Coast is completely safe. Earthquake activity off the coast of West Africa or even Europe could cause what is known as a long-distance tsunami that could devastate the Caribbean and the eastern seaboard.
Technically speaking, the U.S. does have a monsoon season, but it’s regional and is part of the greater North American monsoon pattern that also includes Mexico. A monsoon is a rainy phase that is part of a seasonal changing weather pattern. It’s identified as seasonal reversing winds with accompanying atmospheric changes in the climate. We tend to associate monsoons with Asia, but they can happen anywhere.
In the U.S., Arizona and New Mexico are the most likely to be impacted. The North American monsoon season occurs between July and September every year. This is also when you’re most likely to see an uptick in flash flooding, dust storms, high winds, and microbursts. The monsoon is considered the biggest weather threat to the state of Arizona. However, of all the monsoon systems in the world, the North American monsoon is the least understood, which makes it even harder to create effective emergency preparedness plans to address it.
3. Volcanic Eruptions
For the record, volcanic eruptions do occur in the U.S. regularly. But if you’re picturing a Mount Vesuvius style eruption that destroyed Pompeii, then no, we don’t get that very often. The last catastrophic volcanic eruption in the U.S. was Mount St. Helen in Washington state in 1980. However, it also erupted (although not explosively) between 2004 and 2008, quietly filling its own cavern with lava. Volcanoes erupt frequently in Hawaii, with Kilauea experiencing an eruption in 2018 where slow lava flows destroyed local neighborhoods and property.
The U.S. is home to roughly 169 active volcanoes. But for clarity, “active” means that it has erupted within the last 10,000 years and has the potential to erupt within the next 10,000 years. And just because a volcano is listed as active doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to erupt any time soon. Thanks to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the volcanoes are closely monitored for signs of activity, which can help to provide early warnings to nearby towns, residents or airports to help prevent a loss of life.
This one can feel a bit like semantics as typhoons and hurricanes are the same storm event. The main difference between a typhoon and a hurricane has to do with where the storm occurs. A typhoon is a tropical cyclone that has matured and occurs only in the northwest Pacific ocean. A hurricane is a tropical storm that has matured and is in the Atlantic and northeast Pacific oceans. Both storms feature the same spiral shape, lose power as they move over land, and are most likely to occur between June and November. So does this mean that the U.S. never experiences typhoons? The short answer is no.
Because we have U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean, technically speaking, the U.S. is prone to experiencing typhoons — just not the U.S. mainland. But just like a hurricane, typhoons can turn deadly thanks to high winds, driving rains and associated storm surges. Both storms are measured using the five-category Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale with identical benchmarks for wind speed. However, typhoons can form faster than hurricanes and are often stronger because they are fueled by the warmer Pacific Ocean water.