Which natural disasters do you need to prepare for?
ALL OF THEM.
That’s what you came here for, right? You want us to confirm that since any disaster could happen to anyone, you should be prepared for every possible scenario? If that’s what you want, stop reading now, and get prepared.
If you’re more discerning, there’s data to help you prepare for just the ones that are likely to cross your path.
Spoiler alert: if you’re in the mountains, you don’t need to prepare for a tsunami, regardless of what that scary movie told you.
We’re not pushing for you to be featured in a reboot of Doomsday Preppers, but we do advocate being over-prepared rather than under-prepared. Since most people don’t have infinite time and resources to devote to their disaster prep game, it’s good to do some research to narrow down which scenarios deserve the bulk of your attention.
The past disasters in a region can help predict the future disasters, but the landscape is also changing. Thanks to climate change, weather-related disasters are increasing in both severity and frequency. More people are facing unexpected dangers. Getting smart about what you should expect (and how to prepare to be surprised) will put you ahead of the game!
Assess Risks in Your Region
Let’s start with that good old data, so we can know what to expect. FEMA has an excellent Disaster Search tool to look up historical weather events in your region. You might already be familiar with what to expect, if you’ve lived in the area for a while.
Each region faces its own challenges: the Midwest isn’t wasting their time preparing for hurricanes, but the Gulf Coast could devote their entire prep budget to hurricanes without batting an eye. The Rocky Mountains are prone to avalanches after heavy snow. Prairies are often affected by drought. Flooding is… everywhere.
If you’re in a TL;DR mood, check out our map that breaks it down by state! Remember, these aren’t hard and fast rules; most disasters could happen anywhere. Click through the specific disasters listed for your state here.
Disasters Everyone Should Prepare For
No joke: flooding is everywhere. There are some natural disasters that just don’t give a crap about where you live. If you’re in the US, you should prepare for:
- Flooding: Although flooding occurs more often in low-lying areas and floodplains, every US state can experience flooding. With floods, it’s not a question of whether you’re at risk; it’s a question of how high your risk is. This includes all of the continental US, Alaska and Hawaii, as well as US territories.
- Heat Waves: We are getting hot, hot, hot. Adverse heat events have occurred just about everywhere and will only increase in frequency in the coming years.
- Wildfires: Out-of-control wildfires can occur anywhere there is substantial drought, and more places than ever are experiencing drought! Western US regions, including California, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado, are most vulnerable, but risk exists throughout the country.
- Wind & Dust Storms: These storms are more common in the Southwest, but can occur in nearly every US state with the right geographical conditions. Never forget the Dust Bowl.
Disasters Localized to Specific Regions
Let’s talk specifics. These disasters are only likely in some areas of the US:
- Avalanches: Avalanches are usually localized to steep mountainsides, meaning they might be the easiest disaster to avoid. According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, most avalanche victims are backcountry tourers, snowmobile users, and climbers. Prepare if you’re into hillside winter sports in any state.
- Blizzards: These destructive snowstorms tend to affect the Midwest and the Great Plains, but the East Coast and Texas have gotten their share recently, as well. Unless you’re in southern Florida, warm areas of California, or the Gulf Coast, you should prepare for the possibility of a blizzard.
- Earthquakes: These usually happen on continental fault lines, so we can pin down where most will occur, even though we can’t predict them at all. Prepare if you’re in California, Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, and Washington, or near the fault lines in the Midwest and the South.
- Hurricanes: Hurricanes have become more common over the past few decades, and they’re often testing the patience of inland citizens. Prepare if you’re within 100 miles of the ocean in the East Coast, Gulf Coast, Oregon, or Washington.
- Mudslides: Whether you call it a mudslide, landslide, or debris flow, it’s awful. These masses of moving rock, earth, and debris cause 25-50 deaths per year in the US. They are a localized threat that usually begin on steep slopes after heavy rainfall. Prepare if you live in, near, or below a steep, rocky area.
- Tornadoes: Most tornadoes occur in the Midwest, east of the Rocky Mountains, however they may extend to the West Coast. Tornado Alley in particular is known for conditions favorable to tornado formation, and includes Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois.
- Tsunamis: Though uncommon in the US, earthquakes in the Pacific basin can cause tsunamis, and there’s no way to predict them! Prepare if you live in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Consider the recommendations from local authorities. If your region is at high risk for a disaster, there will be standardized guidelines for what actions to take and when. Learn what you can from experts, but tailor the advice to your situation, and make sure all your bases are covered.
The Unique Risks You’ll Encounter
Time to zoom in! Good disaster prep is personalized. Determining which disasters are likely for your area is a great start, but the next step is asking yourself what makes your situation unique:
- Has the basement smelled damp after rainstorms?
- Is my home located in a high-risk area such as a floodplain or fault line?
- Does my home have adequate storm protection and shelter from high winds or floods?
- Do I have access to a storm shelter?
- Have I noticed my energy is significantly affected in hot weather?
- Are emergency evacuation routes easily accessible in my neighborhood?
- How many family members and pets will need to be included in my disaster plan?
- Do I have enough medications on hand to last throughout a potential evacuation?
The list could go on and on. There are countless factors that might make your disaster experience different from the family two blocks away. Determining which events would have a major effect on your family should guide your planning.
Evacuation is necessary for all kinds of disasters, and it’s much more difficult to evacuate from some locations than others. Make sure to plan out multiple safe routes on high ground away from your home.
Create Contingency Plans for Future Events
Are you feeling less nervous yet? If you’re feeling more nervous than you were before, I’m sorry, but don’t give up now or that nervous feeling will never go away.
Once you’ve determined which disasters are most likely to affect you, it’s time to get prepared. We’ve made guides that will help you easily:
- Write thorough disaster plans
- Prepare emergency kits
- Identify shelter and evacuation routes
- Create an emergency communication plan for you and your loved ones
- Develop disaster drills to practice exactly what you’ll need to do during a disaster
Preparing for disasters incurs some costs, but it’s a small price to pay to protect your biggest assets and stay alive. As you prepare, use your research about your regional risks to determine which prep purchases will help you most.
backup generatorsor batteries to ensure power availability
- Re-examine home, car, life, and flood insurance policies to ensure complete coverage
- Keep supplies on hand throughout the year to avoid panic-buying
- Coordinate with other community residents to brainstorm disaster plans to help neighbors in need
Try not to catastrophize, but remember that risks are only increasing due to climate change. Frequent heat waves contribute to more wildfires and drought; rising sea levels produce more floods and stronger hurricanes. It’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.
During a disaster, there may be a domino effect. Remember the 2011 earthquake that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster incident in Japan? In addition to a disastrous 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami, residents were forced to evacuate to limit their exposure to radiation.
These types of secondary events are hard to predict in disaster preparation, but the calmer you are during a disaster, the more likely you are to take those additional problems in stride. The best way to stay calm during a crisis is to be prepared!
Which Disasters Are You Preparing For?
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what you’re up against. You’ve seen the data, gotten some insight, and determined which disasters deserve your attention.
Nobody knows how climate change will affect us in the next few decades, but research shows worrying trends. Prepare early and often to stay on the safe side. No one can prepare for every eventuality, but with a little help, you’ll be able to create disaster plans that give you the knowledge, skills, and confidence to handle any threat that comes your way.