We spend a lot of time in the prepping and survival community talking about TEOTWAWKI events. There’s some good reason behind that, as preparing for major disasters will help ensure that we’re prepared for the more common ones as well.
But in reality, the disasters that we are most likely to face are the natural disasters that plague our everyday lives, causing billions of dollars worth of damage and killing not a few.
It seems there is no part of the country that doesn’t have some sort of disasters we need to be concerned about. While we are all familiar with the biggest risks that we face wherever we live, few are familiar with the risks that exist in other parts of the country.
While it may not seem important to know what sorts of calamities someone living 1,000 miles away might be forced to face, none of us can foresee the future.
There’s a fairly good possibility that we might suddenly find ourselves living in another part of the country, facing disasters that we never faced before. A simple job transfer can cause that; but so can bugging out.
In order to help us all understand the various disasters we might face at some time in the future, I’ve put together the map below, showing the major natural disasters and where they are most likely to occur.
This doesn’t mean that the disaster can’t happen elsewhere; just that it’s more likely to occur in these parts of the country. Some things can happen literally anywhere.
We’ll start out with a combined map, showing all of the major groups of disasters and then look at each type of disaster individually.
Figure 1 – Compiled Disaster Map
Here’s the key to that map:
I realize that can be a bit confusing to look at, so I’ve broken it out by the various disasters below. A few things don’t have maps, because they can literally happen anywhere.
Floods are the single most common type of natural disaster we might face, pretty much anywhere in the country. Part of that is because other disasters can cause flooding as well.
Hurricanes and tsunamis can and do cause severe flooding. The flooding from Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage to the city of Houston; so do we call that a hurricane or do we call it a flood?
While the flood damage from Hurricane Harvey was horrendous, the flooding caused by the Tohoku tsunami in Japan topped out at over $309 billion in damages.
Here in the US, the only tsunamis we’ve faced have been on the west coast and in Hawaii, and have all been associated with earthquakes. But by comparison to the Tohoku tsunami, those were small.
Flooding or flash flooding can reach pretty much any part of the country, even in the mountains.
Even so, the two areas of the country which have the most flooding are the Mississippi River watershed, which has many serious floods, especially as it moves farther south and what is known as “Flash Flood Alley” in Texas. Even though much of Texas is arid, flash flooding causes an immense amount of damage.
Figure 2 – Major Flood Zones
Tornado alley runs through the middle of the United States, essentially the nation’s breadbasket and accounts for over 1,000 tornadoes each year.
Unlike hurricanes, there is usually very little warning for tornadoes, making it hard to defend against and causing massive damage.
Figure 3 – Tornado Alley
Tornadoes are funny, in that they can totally demolish one home and skip over the next, then go on down the street tearing up others.
Predicting their actions is all but impossible, as we are still learning about them. Nevertheless, they affect a large portion of the country.
Hurricanes and Tropical Storms
Hurricanes are spectacular in their impact and fury. It’s not unusual for a single hurricane to be more than 100 miles wide, causing damage over a huge swath of land.
This is a combination of both wind and rain damage, as hurricane force winds can reach over 150 miles per hour and hurricanes can dump rain that is best measured in feet, rather than inches.
Figure 4 – Hurricane Zone
But while Houston was flooded by the rain of Hurricane Harvey, most of the flooding that comes from hurricanes is caused by what is known as “storm surge.”
This is the water that has been pushed up by the hurricane as it moves across the surface of the ocean. The record height for this is 27.8 feet, which came from Hurricane Katrina. When the storm surge is combined with wind and rain, it can demolish cities.
The only areas which are really affected by hurricanes are those which are close to the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf Coast and Hawaii. You don’t really have to move all that far inland to reach the point where a hurricane is no worse than a serious thunderstorm; but within the coastal areas it can flatten homes and businesses.
You can find information about hurricanes and tropical storms at the National Hurricane Center’s website.
Perhaps the scariest of natural disasters to be caught in is an earthquake. While other natural disasters attack the Earth, an earthquake is an attack from the Earth itself. The very ground beneath us haves and trembles, destroying some of mankind’s most impressive structures.
Figure 5 – Earthquake Zones
Most of the earthquakes that hit the United States hit the West Coast, especially Southern California. The west coast of the US is part of what’s known of as “the Circle of Fire” due to the vast number of still active volcanoes encircling the Pacific Ocean.
But the West Coast isn’t the only part of the country which can be hit by earthquakes. There are several other areas, shown on the map, which are susceptible to earthquake. They’re just not as well known as California, because California has more.
You can find a lot of information about earthquake monitoring and current earthquakes in real time at the USGS website.
Severe Winter Storms and Extreme Summer Heat
People don’t often think of winter storms and summer heat as natural disasters, unless they are something particularly unusual, such as the February Freeze of 2021.
Nevertheless, extreme cold and heat are serious problems, which we should treat with the same respect as we do any other natural disaster. Remember, it was the cold of winter that first taught our ancestors to prepare, as they wouldn’t make it through winter without having a stockpile of food.
Figure 6 – High Risk Winter Storm Areas
But for those who don’t have to worry about the winter cold and snow, there’s the risk of summer heat, which can be just as debilitating. While food still grows in the summer, there are some places where it can be dangerous to go out in the sun and cultivate that food.
Figure 7 – Extreme Heat Areas
I didn’t bother to include wildfires on the map, as it would have caused too much confusion.
Wildfires can happen literally anywhere there is forest. This means that the biggest percentage of them happen west of the Continental Divide, as that is the part of the country with the most forests. California is known for wildfires, in part because they don’t combat them effectively.
But the entire Northwest has problems with wildfires, as well as Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
Drought is also one of the natural disasters that’s impossible to map, because it can strike anywhere. However, some parts of the country are more susceptible to it than others, specifically the Southwest. But trying to define a drought area more specifically than that is virtually impossible, because it changes from year to year.
You can find accurate and up-to-date information about droughts in the United States from the NOAA website.
At the time of this writing (mid-2021), the Southwest is looking to face rather severe drought, but so is California. Even Northern California, which normally has plenty of water, is in trouble, with the Oroville reservoir being so low that they can’t produce electricity from it.
Power generation capacity from other reservoirs in California is not in much better shape, with a number of turbines about to be shut down.
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