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20 Frequently Asked Questions About Heat Waves and Their Answers

A: When we think of natural disasters, we usually think of serious crisis-level events like hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. But these are not the only natural disasters that pose a serious risk to people living in the United States and across the world. Other disasters can occur in the form of more sinister, less obvious natural events, like a sudden and serious change in temperature. When the temperature spikes very high into an uncomfortable and even dangerous realm, that is considered a heat wave.

A: Such events are not discussed as often as other natural disasters. And that's mainly because they are not as newsworthy or eye-opening as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, or tsunamis. But they are no less dangerous. Extreme spikes in heat can be extremely harmful if one does not prepare for them.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration defines them as follows: "A heat wave is simply a period of unusually hot weather that typically lasts two or more days. The temperatures have to be outside the historical averages for a given area. A couple of 95 degree summer days in Maine, for example, might be considered a heat wave, but a couple of 95 degree summer days in Death Valley would be pretty unremarkable."

Such events are formed by immobile, trapped air. When air is trapped over a landmass and is unable to move around the globe, that air begins to warm up, much like the air in an oven. Again quoting the NOAAA:

"High-pressure systems force air downward. This force prevents air near the ground from rising. The sinking air acts like a cap. It traps warm ground air in place. Without rising air, there is no rain, and nothing to prevent the hot air from getting hotter."

A: Such events are measured by the heat index. According to one resource, “The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to the human body when relative humidity is combined with the air temperature. This has important considerations for the human body's comfort. When the body gets too hot, it begins to perspire or sweat to cool itself off.” One of the best ways to protect oneself and others from a heat wave or a deep freeze is to closely monitor weather reports when conditions indicate excessive heat or cold. Here are some terms to watch out for:

  • A heat watch indicates that there is the potential for the heat index to exceed 105-110 degrees within the next 24 to 48 hours.
  • heat warning indicates the heat is expected to exceed 105-110 degrees in the next 12 to 24 hours.

A: The following states are most at risk:

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Georgia
  • South Dakota
  • California
  • Alabama
  • Louisiana
  • Hawaii
  • Florida
  • Arizona
  • New Mexico
  • Nevada

A: As the planet continues to warm as a result of climate change, more frequent cases of extreme heat is all but guaranteed. Hot weather is more frequent than it used to be. There is no questioning that. According to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions:

“Across the globe, hot days are getting hotter and more frequent, while we're experiencing fewer cold days. Over the past decade, daily record temperatures have occurred twice as often as record lows across the continental United States, up from a near 1:1 ratio in the 1950s. Heat waves are becoming more common, and intense heat waves are more frequent.”

A: Yes. Because of the serious risk to human life that such events pose, they are considered natural disasters.

A: According to the CDC, “Extreme heat events can be dangerous to health – even fatal. These events result in increased hospital admissions for heat- related illness, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory disorders. Extreme heat events can trigger a variety of heat stress conditions, such as heat stroke.”

A: The phenomenon that causes this is simpler than one might think. From the experts at the NOAAA, “During heat waves, the air becomes stagnant and traps emitted pollutants, often resulting in increases in surface ozone.”

A: There is usually sufficient warning of a heat wave, as weather predictors often manifest themselves clearly in the days leading up to the event. Keeping an eye on the weather channel is a good way to help prepare for a heat wave. To further prepare for such an event, it’s always a good idea to have fresh water on-hand and at all times. Having shade or something that can create shade, like a large umbrella, is also a good idea. And finally, a first aid kit and electrolyte-rich liquids on-hand can help protect someone during a serious heat event.

A: When humans are exposed to a heat wave, they can experience cramps, swelling, fainting, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, etc. Young children and the elderly are most likely to experience heat exhaustion and other heat-related health hazards.

Such events can also be fatal too, the most concerning risk factor of them all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 50 Americans die every year from exposure to heat wave weather events. The death toll per capita is much higher in undeveloped countries that do not always have access to air conditioning, clean water, and medical responders.

A: Thankfully, those who pay close attention to heat waves and deep freezes should get plenty of warning that such a weather event is likely to occur. But if you find yourself trapped in particularly hot weather, refer to the following tips:

Drink plenty of water during a heat spike! Drink before you feel thirsty.

Balance water intake during an increase in outside temperature with salt, potassium, and other electrolytes.

If you don't have salt or potassium tablets on hand, eat bananas or raisins.

Heat can KILL. Get out of the sun, seek shaded areas, and get cool as soon as possible.

Apply ice packs to the neck, wrists, ankles, groin, and armpits. Get into cold water if possible.

A heat wave can be lethal. But the worst of such a weather event can be avoided when properly planned for. Don't let you or your family be stuck outdoors and exposed during such an event.

A: The primary difference with these weather events is their extreme and unusual characteristics. Heat events denote temperature surges and drops that are extreme and unusual for that geographic area. A heat spike can cause roads to buckle, making travel by car complicated and preventing emergency medical responders from reaching victims in time. Heat surges can also cause massive damage to agricultural production, potentially disrupting the food supply.

When trying to understand the potential damage of an extreme heat event, it helps to analyze historical events. The worst heat surge event in modern U.S. history was undoubtedly the 1936 North American Heat Wave. This heat wave took place in the middle of the Great Depression and during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The weather event caused catastrophic human suffering and an enormous economic toll. The death toll exceeded 5,000 lives lost, partially because the heat wave destroyed many crops.

A: Such a heat event begins at ranges over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and goes up from there. The effects of a such a heating event are made much worse if the humidity level is also particularly high.

A: DO drink water, stay out of the sun, apply cold presses and ice packs to your neck, wrists, ankles, and groin. Take salt and potassium, as well as electrolytes. Stay cool and in the shade if possible.

Do NOT go outside, exercise, labor physically, stay in the sun, or otherwise overly expose yourself to the heat or exertion.

A: While you should not go outside during such a heat event, if you are outside, try looking over a flat, empty ground. You may see a shimmering-like refraction of light coming up off the ground.

A: While animals tend to be naturally more resilient to extreme changes in temperature than humans are, they are also most certainly at risk. If you have pets, livestock, or other animals under your care, try to get them out of the sun, into a cool place, and be sure they have access to water.

A: Such events are more common in the late spring, summer, and early fall. Such an event can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.

A: Such events are named “waves” for a reason. The waves you are seeing when you stare out over flat land during such a heat event. Such is the result of a phenomenon called “refraction.” Refraction occurs when light that is passing through one substance, like air, changes its speed when it passes through particularly hot air, like the air over a blacktop road during a serious heat event.

A: When people are very hot, they don’t want to do much else but rest in the shade, drink water, and try to stay cool/out of the sun. For laborers, farmers, factory workers, and much of the working class at large, a heat wave can mean a death sentence if workers are forced to work in it. Thankfully, the United States has considerable safety rules and regulations that protect workers during such natural disasters as an extreme spike in heat.

The flip side of that coin, however, is that the economy suffers during such an event. A small price to pay, certainly, to save workers’ lives. But a price nonetheless. Quoting one body of research, “Multiple areas of the economic sector experience reduced worker productivity during heatwaves, especially agriculture and construction. Globally, 2% of total working hours is projected to be lost every year, either because it is too hot to work or because workers have to work at a slower pace.”

A: Alarmingly, scientists have been able to prove that there is a direct correlation between rises in temperature and acts of violence. In a nutshell, when the heat is on, humans are more likely to commit acts of aggression upon each other. This is quite concerning, because as the temperature of the planet warms, it portends that there will be more acts of aggression and violence in the future.

We already know that such surges in temperature result in serious threats to physical health. But what if spikes in heat also create risks to psychological health? What if heat events cause or at least contribute to violence? Quoting some of the research, “On average, overall crime increases by 2.2% and violent crime by 5.7% on days with maximum daily temperatures above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29.4° C) compared to days below that threshold. Heat only affects violent crimes while property crimes are not affected by higher temperatures.”

30 Frequently Asked Questions About Wildfires and Their Answers

A: Such a blaze can start with anything from a cigarette butt or a spark from a car’s muffler to a lightning strike or a tree falling against a power line. Unfortunately, there are many ways in which such fires can take off.

A: Human carelessness is the most common cause of wildfires. Humans cause more than 85% of wildfires in the United States. However, there are other causes of wildfires, including lightning, volcanic eruption, and spontaneous combustion.

A: From a quiet, peaceful night to a sudden roaring blaze in just minutes, wildfires are serious disasters that kill about 339,000 people across the world each year. Wildfires can happen anywhere, they spread rapidly, and they must be prepared for. The first step towards protecting yourself from a wildfire begins with knowing what wildfires are, how they form, and what about them makes them dangerous.

According to the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (a department that helps monitor wildfires from space), wildfires are defined as, “Wildfire, also called forest, bush or vegetation fire, can be described as any uncontrolled and non-prescribed combustion or burning of plants in a natural setting such as a forest, grassland, brush land or tundra, which consumes the natural fuels and spreads based on environmental conditions (e.g., wind, topography). Wildfire can be incited by human actions (such as land clearing), extreme drought, or in rare cases by lightning.”

A: In most of the natural disaster sections we've discussed so far, the key has been to focus on protecting yourself and your family from the disaster. This has been the focus because most of the disasters discussed have been natural disasters. And while some fires are natural in their cause, most of them are caused by humans.

That's why no discussion of such fire events is not complete without a discussion about prevention. When humans follow basic wildfire prevention techniques, such events rarely occur. Here are some prevention points to keep in mind:

  • Only you can prevent wildfires.
  • Always be careful with fire.
  • Never play with matches or lighters. Fire is not a toy.
  • Always watch your campfire.
  • Make sure your campfire is completely out before leaving it.
  • Don't ever toss a cigarette butt into the woods.
  • Don't park a car in dry, grassy areas as residual heat from exhaust systems can ignite dry grass.
  • Make certain recreational vehicles have operating spark arrestors.
  • Make sure you are aware of current fire risks in any area you are living or traveling through.
  • Do not use fireworks or incendiary ammunition in dry, forested areas.
  • It is illegal to use fireworks or incendiary ammunition on all DNR-protected lands, regardless of conditions.
  • Make sure a campfire is cold before leaving it. Douse it with water so it is completely out.
  • Wildfires can start in residential backyards. Make sure your at-home fire pits and landscaping burns (burning leaves, for example) are well-tended to.
  • If you own forest land, do your best to manicure it and keep it well-maintained.

According to the United States Forest Service, about 87% of wildfires are caused by humans. That means that at least 87% of fires are 100% preventable. Do your part to prevent such fires from occurring, and if they do occur, get yourself and your family to safety as soon as possible.

A: This state experiences literally thousands of fires each year, with as many as 10,000 fires occurring in any given year.

A: According to an expert, the changing climate, the large concentration of people, the over reliance on fire suppression, and high winds all contribute to the fires in California.

A: As the planet continues to warm and as dry regions become drier and rains become more sparse and infrequent, wildfires will be more common. Quoting the Council on Foreign Relations, “Climate change creates conditions that favor wildfires: hotter temperatures, deeper droughts, and drier vegetation. As the planet warms, fires start earlier in the year, last longer, and get bigger. Climate change is to blame for more than half of the increase in areas vulnerable to fire since 1984. Climate change has fueled the crisis in states such as California by driving record-breaking temperatures. Hotter temperatures dry out soil and vegetation, creating favorable conditions for fires to grow and spread rapidly. An intense heat wave generated California's hottest August on record this year, and in September, Los Angeles County reached its own historical peak of 121°F. This extreme heat, along with years of preventing forests from burning naturally, has resulted in fire-prone lands brimming with fuel. Highly flammable vegetation serves as a powerful propellant for fires.”

Because the fire season is getting longer and conditions that precipitate wildfires are becoming more common, now more than ever, Americans must learn about wildfires, learn how to prepare for them, and learn how to protect themselves and their families. Most importantly, they must learn what they can do to prevent wildfires.

A: A single fire lasts an average of 37 days before natural intervention (rain) and human intervention (fire crews) causes it to die out (or it simply runs out of fuel). The fire season now lasts an average of 76 days longer than it did in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1986, the average fire only lasted eight days. This all suggests that wildfires in America are getting much worse.

Fires can cover a large expanse of land, particularly when they become uncontrollable and cannot be put out by human intervention. The worst fire in American history also happened to be the most extensive. This was the Peshtigo Fire, a fire that occurred in both Wisconsin and Michigan. The fire burned about 3.8 million acres and took close to 2,500 lives.

A: Civilians and even EMS and other medical personnel are not equipped to stop such blazes. Only firefighters have the tools, knowledge, and equipment necessary to stop such fires from spreading, and even these individuals are limited.

A: The slightest spark can start a wildfire, and the slightest spark can also restart a fire. This is why you must not enter a recently-burned area unless local authorities say it is safe to do so. Fires can form quite suddenly and burn through millions of acres of land at shockingly fast speeds. The flames can travel about 14 miles per hour and can overtake the average human in minutes. Such fires can go from a tiny spark in the undergrowth to a full-on blaze in a matter of minutes.

A: It is very difficult to prepare for a wildfire, as there is almost nothing one can do to their home to defend it against such a flame. Rather, it’s important to know what to do to preserve human life during such a serious event. The following are ten additional, life-saving tips for how to survive a wildfire:

  • Protect your airways. The smoke may cause you to pass out and die.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a mask or cloth while
  • Stay low to the ground if you must evacuate on foot.
  • Use the wind! If the wind is blowing past you and toward the fire, then run into the wind.
  • If the wind is behind the fire and blowing toward you, run perpendicular to the fire.
  • Go for nonflammable terrains like water, parking lots, barren ground, or already burned areas.
  • Avoid terrain with a lot of vegetation and other combustible material.
  • If trapped, hunker down in a non-combustible area. If not trapped, flee!
  • Seek safety in or near water. Get in the water, or put the water between you and the fire.
  • If you must hunker down, cover your body with wet rags, clothes, or even mud or dirt.

A: Disaster-level fire events can occur anywhere in the United States. Historically, different regions of the U.S. have been more prone to such fires than others. For example, the Midwest used to suffer particularly devastating fires, especially in the 1800s and around the turn of the century. In the 20th century, Alaska experienced many fires. In more recent decades, California has experienced the majority of U.S. fires. Idaho and the Pacific Northwest are also prone to fires.

The following are the top ten states in the U.S. for fires:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Washington
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Montana
  • Utah

Because wildfires can happen anywhere, it's important for everyone to know what these disasters are, what causes them, and how to prepare for them/respond to them.

A: They can be, yes. But they can also be caused by humans. In fact, most such events today are caused by humans.

A: There are actually two such seasons. One begins in February and ends in May, and the other begins in October and ends in December. However, the season is quite variable. Others define the season as beginning whenever the first fire occurs, and ending whenever the last fire occurs.

A: Not exactly. While such events do have some natural benefits, a wildfire is an uncontrolled, unmanned, unstoppable blaze that may have been caused by humans but which is not controlled or managed by humans. On the other hand, a controlled burn is a planned, deliberate effort to manicure and maintain a forest by use of conservative burning and by using flames to reduce a forest's undergrowth. Controlled burns have more benefits with fewer risks, whereas wildfires tend to have risks and destruction that outweigh the benefits.

A: Such events affect the environment in many ways. Such a fire is a part of nature, but fires can be deadly too, destroying homes, wildlife habitat, and timber, and polluting the air with emissions harmful to human health. Fire also releases carbon dioxide—a key greenhouse gas—into the atmosphere. But at the same time, such events act as a reset button for grasslands, prairies, and forests, which can be helpful to those ecosystems.

A: Primarily, such burns remove dead and dying growth, clearing a way for new growth. Fires also help maintain the balance between grasses and larger plants and trees.

A: Lightning is the most common cause of such an event, but a small percentage are started by spontaneous combustion of dry fuel on the forest floor.

A: Protecting yourself, your family, and your community from wildfires has several parts, most of which fall under the label of prevention. But what do you do when such a fire actually does occur?

  • The key response when fires break out is to evacuate. Get out of the area as quickly as possible and get away from the fire as fast as possible. Such fires are unplanned, uncontrolled, and unpredictable. They can start and burn in forests, grasslands, and prairies. These are fires that are dangerous, volatile, and extremely lethal. Here are some steps to follow if you find yourself in a region with an active fire:
  • Recognize critical warnings and alerts. The best way to survive such an event is to know when one is coming. Make sure you are signed up for real-time alerts through the FEMA app, the Emergency Alert System, and air quality alerts.
  • Follow an emergency plan. Make sure everyone in your household knows and understands what to do and where to go during a fire. Follow a preplanned route!
  • It is not possible to hunker down and "wait out" a massive burn event that is headed your way. You must evacuate. It's important to have an evacuation route available and to determine a backup route in case the first route is consumed by fire, blocked, or otherwise inaccessible.
  • Wear face coverings. One of the biggest health risks during a serious fire is not the fire itself but the smoke and toxic fumes that one might inhale while trying to escape a fire. These can be lethal, so it is essential to wear a face-covering of some kind. Doing so may help protect your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs from smoke.
  • Follow local emergency assistance authorities. If authorities say to evacuate, do so. But if they tell you to stay put, that's likely because the fire is not headed your way. In this case, stay at your home, as evacuating may put you in further danger. Similarly, if you did evacuate, do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so.

A: Even if its cause is human in origin, such fire events are considered natural disasters.

A: They are. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “Not only is the average wildfire season three and a half months longer than it was a few decades back, but the number of annual large fires in the West has tripled — burning twice as many acres. Severe heat and drought fuel wildfires, conditions scientists have linked to climate change. If we don’t break the warming cycle, we expect more and worse wildfires in the years ahead.”

A: Yes it can.

A: Wildfires can consume just about anything in their path. The average temperature of a wildfire is 1,472 degrees Fahrenheit, with flames reaching several feet high. Keep in mind that the average campfire is about 600 degrees Fahrenheit, suggesting that wildfires are much hotter than campfires, ovens, stovetops, etc.

A: Yes. In fact, the majority of the human harm caused by fires is not burns, but lung damage due to breathing smoke.

A: Yes. According to the U.S. Forest Service, “The effects of breathing wildland fire smoke include eye and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.”

A: There are many methods utilized by fire crews to extinguish blazes. From boots-on-the-ground efforts to helicopters and tanker aircraft, crews employ time-tested methods, many of which have been perfected over the decades. Most firefighting involves putting out a blaze with water or fire retardant and preventing the spread of a blaze.

A: As the dry season lasts longer and as temperatures continue to climb, such fires are more likely to occur, both by natural and human causes.

A: Fire victims need immediate relief, including shelter, food, water, and medical care. They often need financial support too, especially if their homes were destroyed by a fire. Anything from providing meals to victims to giving them a place to stay helps immensely.

A: Wildfires are categorized and named based off the damage they cause and how much acreage they burn. For some context, here are the top-ranked, worst fires in U.S. history:

One of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history just so happens to be a wildfire. It was called the Peshtigo Fire. It occurred in 1871, consuming 1.5 million acres of dry land. The fire started near the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin, in the upper Midwest. High winds fanned the flames into firestorms, tornado-like columns of fire that leaped natural firebreaks, and even large bodies of water, spreading the fire further than believed possible. The fire killed about 2,500 people.

The Great Chicago Fire, another serious fire in U.S. history, also occurred in 1871. The fire lasted for two days, destroyed thousands of buildings in Chicago, and killed about 300 people. The fire caused about $200 million in damages as an area of Chicago about four miles long and a mile wide was destroyed by the blaze.

The 1902 Yacolt Burn is the collective name for dozens of fires that burned through Washington State and Oregon in 1902. The fires lasted for about four days and burned about 500,000 acres. This fire, like many others, was partially caused by humans. Dry conditions exacerbated the fires, causing them to spread more easily. The fires killed 65 people.

The Great Michigan Fire of 1871 started as a series of smaller fires that merged into a massive inferno that burned about 3,900 square miles of land. The flames ravaged Michigan cities like Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee, and part of the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This series of fires is estimated to have killed around 500 people.

A: According to the experts, cutting the power in a preemptive effort to prevent fires does have some efficacy. During strong winds, tree branches are more likely to fall and cause damage to power lines, which could in turn spark fires. In fact, many fires in California are caused by utility companies’ “Electric power and distribution lines, conductors and the failure of power poles.”

50 Frequently Asked Questions About Floods and Their Answers

What is this event actually? How is it different from a flash event? Flash water surges are the most dangerous type of flood because they combine the destructive power of a huge, moving body of water with immense speed. Flash events usually develop rapidly, giving residents little time to evacuate. In particularly steep, clay-earth areas or in regions that receive a lot of rainfall, a flash flood can form in under an hour. Such an event can put countless human lives in danger extremely rapidly.

A "regular" flood, on the other hand, refers to any buildup of water that overcomes the banks, shoreline, levees, beach, embankment, break wall, or other natural or manmade artifacts or formations that generally keep that water at bay. Such a water buildup is still dangerous, as it can submerge homes, cars, people, and animals. But such a disaster event does not usually involve water that is moving as rapidly as in the case of a flash event.

Rushing water, moving with inertia and a force unparalleled by any machinations of man, it's difficult to comprehend the sheer power of a disaster like this. Floods are the natural disaster that can literally force homes off of their foundations and push them across the ground. Such events can cause immense harm, destroying anything and everything in their path. Of all the natural disasters, these ones also exert the greatest cost in human life. The two worst natural disasters in recorded history were both floods.

A The National Severe Storms Laboratory defines events like these as such “Flooding is an overflowing of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods can happen during heavy rains, when ocean waves come on shore, when snow melts quickly, or when dams or levees break. Damaging flooding may happen with only a few inches of water, or it may cover a house to the rooftop. Floods can occur within minutes or over a long period, and may last days, weeks, or longer. Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters.”

The best way to determine if your home is in an at-risk zone is to check with your local county or township. They will have maps that indicate which homes are at risk for water surges and which aren’t. Keep in mind though, you can still be at risk for water surge even if you don’t live in a flood zone.

According to Flood Smart, a program organized by FEMA, “Flood insurance covers losses directly caused by flooding.... Property outside of an insured building. For example, landscaping, wells, septic systems, decks and patios, fences, seawalls, hot tubs, and swimming pools. Financial losses caused by business interruption.” It’s important to prepare for and protect against such events. Holding an insurance policy that can cover the repairs to your home should not be your first or only line of defense against such disaster events (though it is helpful).

The various types of water risk zones are given specific designations to differentiate them. These designations also determine whether or not homeowners will need to purchase insurance as a part of their mortgage. According to one resource, “AE flood zones are areas that present a 26% chance over the life of a 30-year mortgage, according to FEMA. Since these areas are prone to flooding, homeowners with mortgages from federally regulated lenders are required to purchase flood insurance through the NFIP."

Flood Zone X refers to an area that is outside the 500-year risk area, and which is protected by a levee from the 100-year risk. This is a moderate risk area, meaning that purchase of a home in this area may require insurance for many home mortgage lenders to agree to offer a mortgage for the home.

According to one resource, this region is defined as follows “Zone A is the flood insurance rate zone that corresponds to the 1-percent annual chance floodplains that are determined in the Flood Insurance Study by approximate methods of analysis. Because detailed hydraulic analyses are not performed for such areas, no Base Flood Elevations or depths are shown within this zone. Mandatory flood insurance purchase requirements apply.”

The great water surge event of Noah may have occurred around 2,900 BCE.

Such a plain is defined by an area of low-lying ground that is adjacent to a river. This geographic region will have been formed mainly by river sediments, and even if it is a good distance away from current river systems, such a plain is still subject to flooding.

Such a warning is usually suggestive of low-risk rainfall and puddling or pooling. Such warnings are usually issued when one to two inches of rain are expected.

You might not have much time to prepare for such a disaster event, so it’s important to be hasty and prioritize your time. One government resource suggests that people do as much research and preparation during normal, dry times, so that when a massive water event does occur, they are sufficiently prepared.

According to one organization, “Make a plan for your household, including your pets, so that you and your family know what to do, where to go, and what you will need to protect yourselves from flooding. Learn and practice evacuation routes, shelter plans, and flash flood response. Gather supplies, including non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, and water for several days, in case you must leave immediately or if services are cut off in your area. Keep important documents in a waterproof container. Create password-protected digital copies. Protect your property. Move valuables to higher levels. Declutter drains and gutters. Install check valves. Consider a sump pump with a battery.”

People often wonder what the difference is between a “watch” and a “warning.” According to www.weather.gov: “A Flash Flood Warning is issued when a flash flood is imminent or occurring. If you are in a flood prone area move immediately to high ground. A Flood Warning is issued when flooding is imminent or occurring. A Flood Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. A Flood Advisory is issued when a specific weather event that is forecast to occur may become a nuisance.”

One of the reasons why water-related disaster events are the most common type of natural disaster is because the conditions which form such events occur quite frequently. Floods occur when heavy rainfall exceeds the ability of the ground to absorb that sheer amount of rain. Virtually any severe rainstorm has the potential of causing a water surge. Such surges also occur when enough water accumulates in streams, rivers, and lakes for the water to overflow the river banks or the edges of the body of water. Another cause of such events is ice jams and snowmelt. A deep snowpack that melts rapidly can cause flooding to occur. When spring rains exaggerate snowmelt, flash water surge can occur.

Wetlands are immensely important to the local ecosystem and, as it turns out, to protecting human life and property. Wetlands temporarily store water and slowly release it into the environment. Wetlands are a natural sponge, able to soak up storm waters and prevent water runoff and damage to surrounding human habitation.

It is almost impossible to guarantee the prevention of such a natural disaster. Ditches, fields, levees, dams, rain gardens, and water retention ponds can help. However, communities must ask the question, “To what extent are we willing to alter the surrounding environment and ecosystem?” It might be more safe to simply not build in extremely water-prone areas, and to instead let nearby wetlands protect the region from excessive water flow.

The name of such an event is an effort to simplify a more complex natural event. Basically, labeling such an event “A 100 year event” is an easy way of categorizing a type of water surge that only has a 1% chance of occurring each year, hence the idea that that level of water flow is only supposed to occur once every 100 years.

One of the reasons why water flow disasters are the most destructive natural disaster in the United States is because they occur in every U.S. state and territory. They are a threat anywhere in the world that experiences rain. Even arid regions can experience such events because a sudden rainfall can overwhelm dry creek beds and flow into local communities.

Such events are caused by excessive rainfall in a certain area. They can also be caused by the release of water held by an ice jam or some other type of blockage. Such events usually come about during or after slow-moving thunderstorms that deposit heavy rains on a concentrated area. Disasters like these can also result from hurricanes or other tropical storms.

Such plains are formed by erosion, i.e., the gradual cutting of a steam or river into its banks. This process occurs over countless years, sometimes thousands of years, to shape a significant region around a river. As the plain is formed, it can also experience water-level rises during particularly bad storms.

The best way to protect yourself and others when it comes to dangerous rises in water levels is to be aware and informed of their risk and to have an escape route in place.

1). Know if you live in a flood plain. Are you at risk for a flood? Study local maps and determine if you live in such a plain. Most U.S. counties have detailed flood plain maps, and many counties won't even let new homes be constructed in such plains.

2). Be warned. The best chances for surviving a disaster-level water event come from knowing when a water surge is coming. Invest in an NOAAA radio, and make sure your cell phone emergency alerts are turned on.

3). Have an escape route. You need to know where you will evacuate to if the water levels begin to rise. Where can you drive to that is higher in elevation than where you currently live? How can you drive there without having to drive through lower elevation areas?

4). Learn the terminology. Know the different types of warnings. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association monitors water level conditions and sends out alerts if a water level rise seems likely. For example, a flash event "watch" (or a flood watch) means that flash flooding or flooding is possible within the designated watch area. Be alert. A flash event "warning" (or a flood warning), on the other hand, means that flash flooding or flooding has been reported and is imminent. If you hear such warnings for your area, take necessary precautions at once, and get to higher ground!

5). "Turn around, don't drown." According to the NOAAA, most flooding deaths occur when people attempt to drive their cars into or through water-covered roadways. If you are attempting to evacuate an area and you encounter such a road, turn around and find an alternate route. Never attempt to drive on or through a road that has water flowing over it..

A Floods are deadly and dangerous. If such a disaster event is coming your way, do everything you can to evacuate safely. If you cannot evacuate, seek higher ground wherever you are. Never try to swim in or drive through such waters.

This simply refers to any region which may experience a water level rise that may be a risk to local human habitation.

According to one safety management group, “The main cause of flooding in urban areas is poor or lack of drainage. High intensity rainfall overwhelms sewage and drainage within cities and neighborhoods, filling the streets in a dangerous mix of sewage and floodwater. Urban flooding is a slower process that hinders transportation and may damage daily activities but rarely results in deaths.”

There is not much humans can do to proactively prevent disasters like these from occurring. Rather, it’s more about what humans don’t do. Case in point, when humans pave over natural soil with parking lots, roads, and buildings, they are making it more difficult for rainwater to seep naturally into the soil. Urban development actually makes serious rainfall worse, not better. Preserving wetlands and investing in water-pervious paving methods can prevent serious disaster events from occurring.

This refers to an area that is only expected to receive higher-than-normal water levels once every 100 years. Another way to look at it is that such regions only have a 1% chance of experiencing disaster-level water events each year.

This is simply a type of water event that involves the rapid rise of water levels and disbursement of water into a region with little to no warning.

The term simply refers to an area in and around a river or stream that is subject to rising water levels during excessive rain and other natural events.

This refers to a powerful surge of water onto land, usually tidal water in the ocean.

This refers to an area with minimal hazard for serious water runoff events.

Turn around, don’t drown! That is the catch phrase to remember. If safe evacuation over roads that do NOT have water on them is possible, then evacuate. But if roads to higher ground are not passable, turn around, and try to find higher ground somewhere else. Sometimes, the highest ground available will be the second floor or roof of you home, so keep that in mind as a potentially good place to wait out a storm event.

Natural levees can help prevent excessive water events from occurring. However, if the natural levees fail, it can often result in a serious water runoff event.

According to the Flood Observatory (recording such events since 1985), the average duration of water above normal levels is 9.5 days. While floods can form very quickly (particularly in the case of flash floods), they often linger for many days at a time before the water level returns to a normal range. A flood is still quite dangerous, even if the water is no longer moving as rapidly.

Such an event can bring walls of water from ten to twenty feet high. A car can be taken away by such water in as little as two feet of water, and entire homes can be shifted off their foundations by particularly strong surges. Such a disaster event can cover a large swath of land too, depending on the geography of the region.

This term refers to the water level, as read by a stream gauge or tide gauge, for a body of water at a particular location, at a particular time. As the measurement varies, experts are able to monitor the various stages of excess water flowing into or out of that region at any given time.

The National Severe Storms Laboratory defines these events as such: “Flooding is an overflowing of water onto land that is normally dry. Floods can happen during heavy rains, when ocean waves come on shore, when snow melts quickly, or when dams or levees break. Damaging flooding may happen with only a few inches of water, or it may cover a house to the rooftop. Floods can occur within minutes or over a long period, and may last days, weeks, or longer. Floods are the most common and widespread of all weather-related natural disasters.”

Such events are most likely to occur in areas that experience significant rainfall or in coastal and river regions. But disasters like these can technically occur anywhere that has rainfall.

A 500 year event such as this is one that only has a 0.2% chance of occurring each year, hence the likelihood of such a disaster event only occurring once every 500 years.

Do not enter standing water that is leftover from such an event, as it may be carrying an electrical current. Wait until all of the water has receded before you begin the cleanup and recovery process.

If the water surge is so bad that water begins to come into your home, there are several things you must do, and quickly! Turn off the electricity to your home, to prevent electrical currents from traveling through the water. Evacuate the premises if you are able to plot out a safe route along a road that does NOT have water flowing over it. If that is not possible, call for help. While waiting for help to arrive, seek higher ground in the second floor of your home, or on the roof, if necessary.

There are some basic, life-saving rules to follow during a sudden water surge event. From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Gather emergency supplies, including food and water. Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. Store at least a 3-day supply. Listen to your local radio or television station for updates. Have immunization records handy (or know the year of your last tetanus shot). Bring in outdoor possessions (lawn furniture, grills, trash cans) or tie them down securely. If evacuation appears necessary, turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve. Leave areas subject to flooding such as low spots, canyons, washes, etc. (Remember: avoid driving through flooded areas and standing water.)”

This is an event in which low-lying coastal regions are submerged by sea water. This can occur as a result of hurricanes and other tropical storms, or as a result of particular high tides or storm surges.

River plains and coastal regions are the areas most susceptible to such disaster events. However, a disaster like this can actually occur just about anywhere that experiences rainfall. Even in the desert, immense water runoff has been known to occur.

They are primarily dangerous because they occur so rapidly and can often catch people off guard. Particularly in rural areas with few roads, such a disaster event can quickly trap people in an isolated region, often giving them no way to safely evacuate.

Wetlands are extremely important! They should not be altered, drained, or paved over. They act as natural sponges that absorb excess rainwater and stormwaters. Paving over them makes water runoff worse, creating more severe water surge events as a result.

According to the records, the 1931 flooding of the Yangtze River in China (called the Central China Floods of 1931) comes first for the worst natural disaster in human history. Anywhere from 2 million to 3.7 million people died because of this flood. One of the reasons for the huge death toll is that the flood covered a massive swath of land, about 70,000 square miles all in all.

One of the reasons why water level rises are the most common type of natural disaster is because the conditions which form such events occur quite frequently. Surges occur when heavy rainfall exceeds the ability of the ground to absorb that sheer amount of rain. Virtually any severe rainstorm has the potential of causing such an event. Floods also occur when enough water accumulates in streams, rivers, and lakes for the water to overflow the river banks or the edges of the body of water. Another cause of floods is ice jams and snowmelt. A deep snowpack that melts rapidly can cause surging to occur. When spring rains exaggerate snowmelt, flash flows can occur.

Floods can cause immense damage to anything in their path. Flash floods, in particular, are quite devastating, as they tend to involve fast-moving water. Densely populated areas are also at higher risk for crisis-level incidences because buildings, highways, and parking lots increase runoff by reducing the amount of rain absorbed by the ground.

If a thunderstorm lingers over an area for an extended period, it can cause a nearby stream with just a few inches of water in it to rise ten feet or more in under an hour. That poses a particular risk to people who are camping or recreating near bodies of water during intense rainfall.

The primary cause for concern with floods are the legitimate risk of drowning. Such events occur quickly, they usually involve fast-moving water, and they are quite unpredictable. People who get caught in a disaster like this are often unable to get out of the water, and they drown. In the United States, floods kill more people than tornadoes, hurricanes, or lightning.

All such events are dangerous, but flash floods are by far the most dangerous. With that in mind, the following are the regions of the U.S. where flash floods are most likely to occur:

  • Densely populated areas. As mentioned earlier, the buildup of concrete structures, essentially "paving over the world," makes stormwater runoff conditions much worse.
  • Areas near rivers. These regions are at risk for serious water level rises. Even when levees are built near flood-prone rivers, such installations are not always effective at preventing the water level from rising over the levee.
  • Dam failures. When a dam fails, this causes a sudden and destructive surge of water to plummet downstream. Such an event can be particularly devastating, as people living nearby usually have little to no warning of such an event occurring.
  • Mountainous regions, steep hills, and clay-like soil. Steep areas are more prone to water level rises, particularly in the southeastern United States, where the soil is more clay-like and not as absorptive.
  • Canyons and river beds. Out west, a dry creek bed or a canyon may seem like a safe place to recreate. But this is not always the case. During incidences of heavy rainfall (even rainfall occurring far away from campers upstream), dry creek beds and canyons can fill with water rapidly, posing an immense risk to those nearby.
  • Recent burn areas. An area that has been burned recently (such as a coordinated burning in a forest) is at risk for water surges, as much of the vegetation which would have captured flood waters will have been burned away.

Yes, they absolutely can! One of the more sinister risks of water level rises is that the water levels can begin to recede, and there can be the appearance of safety. Then, suddenly, a second rainstorm can occur upstream, or a levee can break, or a dam fails, and floodwater levels rise again. This is why it is critical not to approach a recently flooded area until public health and safety experts say it is safe to do so.

The two most devastating natural disasters in recorded history were both the result of sudden increases in water levels. According to the records, the 1931 flooding of the Yangtze River in China (called the Central China Floods of 1931) comes first for the worst natural disaster in human history. Anywhere from 2 million to 3.7 million people died because of this disaster event. One of the reasons for the huge death toll is that the flood covered a massive swath of land, about 70,000 square miles all in all.

The second-worst natural disaster in human history was also a flood, and it also occurred in China. This was the 1887 Yellow River Flood, a natural disaster that killed anywhere from 900,000 to 2 million people. The event was partially caused by human interference, as the Yellow River had risen above and away from nearby farmland by a series of dikes. When heavy rains surged the river, it spilled over the dikes and put about 5,000 square miles underwater.

As for such disasters in the United States, the worst one was undoubtedly the 1889 flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. In this disaster, an upstream dam failed, and a wall of water 40 feet high and a half-mile wide came roaring down upon the Appalachian town of Johnstown, killing 2,209 people within minutes.

Most scientists believe that instances of water surge will become more frequent and more intense in the coming years. As it currently stands, an increasing number of coastal and inland communities are already experiencing higher numbers of events of this kind.

There is a growing body of evidence that, as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, floods will become more frequent and more intense. Quoting the Natural Resources Defense Council, “As the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) noted in its special report on extremes, it is increasingly clear that climate change 'has detectably influenced' several of the water-related variables that contribute to floods, such as rainfall and snowmelt. In other words, while our warming world may not induce floods directly, it exacerbates many of the factors that do. According to the Climate Science Special Report (issued as part of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which reports on climate change in America), more flooding in the United States is occurring in the Mississippi River Valley, Midwest, and Northeast, while U.S. coastal flooding has doubled in a matter of decades.”

It would seem that floods will get worse. They'll become more frequent, and the floods that do occur will likely be more devastating than they were before.