America "due" for any natural disasters?

Talking to a guy at work today, and he mentioned that a volcano at Yellowstone was “due to blow”. Made me think about “The Big One” that is supposed to send California into the sea.

How much of this is even likely to happen in our lifetime? (say, 50 years)

Mt. Rainier is supposedly due for a rather apocalyptic eruption like that of Mt. St. Helens within the next 100 years or so that would threaten Seattle and surrounding, heavily-populated areas.

I haven’t got a clue, but I’ll bet those people in New England weren’t expecting that earthquake they recently experienced. Also a few years ago, we had a scare when it was predicted that the fault running from Indiana thru Missouri (centered there)and down to around Memphis was going to shift. So many people took out earthquake insurance that the insurance companies stopped writing any more. If by some long shot it had happened they would have been wiped out. :eek:

Here are some links I found from Discover Magazine:

Well, I don’t know about people “not expecting” them. It is well known that there are fault lines in the northeast US, though they are not as active as those in California. FWIW, the recent earthquake caused hardly any damage. I don’t think there’s been a serious earthquake in the northeast for more than 100 years.

I think the Texas Gulf Coast is about five years overdue for a hurricane. Not that that matters; hurricanes hit the U.S. coast all the time.

IIRC, the most powerful earthquake to hit the lower 48 was in 1811, centered in New Madrid, MO. It was a magnitude 8.0 on the Richter scale. According to this page, it caused damage in Washington, D.C. and rang church bells as far away as Boston.

As to whether or not we’re due, that’s open to interpretation. One can say that a major earthquake (or storm, for that matter) occurs every hundred years or so, therefore they’re “overdue” for one in Missouri. But it’s all just a matter of statistics; there’s no way to yet predict when such an event will occur.

Hurricanes occur on the average of 5-8 per year, with 2-3 major ones (out of something over a dozen tropical storms). Only southern coastal Texas has been hit in the past two years – it’s not uncommon for up to four hurricanes to hit the combined South Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in a year. (Although the ones that do major damage are significantly fewer.)

There has been, over the last few decades, substantially more volcanic activity in the Cascades than there had been since World War I. Rainier is ominous, though not at present as threatening as St. Helens was before its eruption. I believe there are a couple of other Cascades volcanoes “coming to life.”

If anybody knows the story behind or has a link to this supposed Yellowstone volcano threat, I’d be interested in the story. AFAIK there is a hotspot under Yellowstone, but one that merely causes the geysers, hot springs, and such, not a confined, volcano-producing sort of source.

It’s intrigued me that winters are significantly different today in the Northeast than they had been prior to about 1990 – and I speak from some experience here.

I think there is something of the gambler’s fallacy in the OP. Yes, there are some disasters that become more and more likely to happen. For instance, forest fires. If you don’t have a forest fire more and more dead fuel accumulates, which increases the likelyhood that a lightning strike will ignite…and also increases the intensity.

Hurricane’s obviously don’t follow this model. Either a storm forms and hits land or not. But the abscence of a major storm hitting land last year doesn’t make it more likely that a major storm will hit this year.

Other things are in between. One could argue that crustal tension builds up, and earthquakes and volcanoes release that tension. So if you have a major earthquake you are less likely to have another major earthquake. But that doesn’t always happen. For instance, we had a semi-major quake here in Seattle last year. But it wasn’t “The Big One”, it was caused by another fault. So we are just as likely to have “The Big One” as we were before the quake. And we don’t really have a good model for how much energy is released in a quake vs how much energy is stored in the faults. Would “The Big One” release a large fraction of that energy, or only a small amount? If it only releases a small amount, then it doesn’t make subsequent earthquakes less likely.

Other disasters work the opposite way. If you have one, you are more likely to get more…an example might be droughts. When you have a drought you get a loss of ground cover, which means that you can’t hold on to moisture. So you get more evaporation and erosion, and things dry out faster next year, animals eat more of the less-available ground cover. So you get creeping desertification. This could even affect the amount of rainfall. Dry, hot areas could keep cool moist air out.

The other thing to remember is that there are geologic disasters that we have NO historical record of, just geological records. For instance, a couple of million years ago there were massive…I mean truly massive…lava flows that covered huge amounts of eastern Washington and Northern Oregon. We have never seen continental lava flows of this type in action. We don’t know what causes them, or when or where they are likely to occur. We do know that they don’t happen very often…every few million years? But beyond that we don’t know. And of course, major asteroid strikes are another example.

The Salt Lake valley, in Utah, is overdue for a major quake.
The geological record shows a major quake (7-7.5) on average every 750 years, but nothing even close to that in the last 1500 years.
You can actually see places in Salt Lake City along the Wasatch Front where there are homes, even whole nighborhoods, built ON the fault line.
It’s going to be a complete disaster there when the big one hits. Liquefaction of the ground around the epicenter will destroy all the infrastructure for miles.
Unless, of course, the Mormons are the correct religion and God is protecting them now. :wink:

The Yellowstone thing is, I beleve, a reference to a ‘supervolcano’. Apparently, the whole Yellowstone area could collapse into a caldera 40 or 50 km across. The last time something like this happened, it left ash two metres deep in a location over 1500 km away from the centre of the eruption. From the traqnscript:

BBC reference

The same site, BBC Horizon, has another program about ‘megatsunamis’. Apparently the side of a mountain in the Canary Islands is poised to slide into the Atlantic, causing a tsunami 600 metres high at its source, that will wipe out everything on the Atlantic coastal plain…

::Sunspace looks nervously over his shoulder and reflects that land is cheap in the Canadian Shield, the oldest and most geologically stable part of North America, although this is mostly because of the unfriendly climate. (If it was at the latitude of Miami, say, it would be packed with people.) He looks out the window at the sky, pauses, and wonders about incoming asteroids… ::

In eighth grade (4 years ago) we learned that California is due for a major earthquake in the next 20 years.

Also, didn’t Thomas Malthus say that some day the world’s food consumption would outgrow the food supply, causing a massive worldwide famine? As far as I know, it’s impossible to prove him wrong.

Every year about this time, meteorologists try to predict the number of “major” hurricanes that will brew up in the Caribbean and how many will theaten us. They are rarely right and even seem to be disappointed when we are spared massive destruction.

Tsunami’s fall into this category of Lemur’s: there may be some built up geological strain somewhere along the Pacific rim but the change in odds year to year is very small.

Anyway, the Pacific coast and Hawaii have been very lucky these past several decades not to have been hit by a large Tsunami. There was one a few centimeters in heigh about 5 years ago (the air raid sirens woke me up) but that’s basically been it since. The last real Tsunami in Hawaii was [url=]19759/url]. :slight_smile: I was 1 year old and living on the volcano. I may remember the quake, or it might be a later one.

Anyway we’ve had no Pacific wife tsunami’s since 1964 which is unusual. but tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, …

I pressed stop but you can never be fast enough, sigh.


The guy who said this was on the Discovery channel, but it’s still a cool quote, disregarding the possible dramatization: “Civilization has managed to flourish due to geological consent.”

I am not myself today. Is this a Freudian slip? Should be “Pacific Wide tsunamis” sigh.

Yellowstone Volcano Observatory - Monitoring the Largest Volcanic System in North America


During the three giant caldera-forming eruptions that occurred between 2.1 million and 640,000 years ago, tiny particles of volcanic debris (volcanic ash) covered much of the western half of North America, likely a third of a meter deep several hundred kilometers from Yellowstone and several centimeters thick farther away. Wind carried sulfur aerosol and the lightest ash particles around the planet and likely caused a notable decrease in temperatures around the globe.

I believe the Mammoth Lakes area has measured some appreciable rise over the last decade or so that geologists think might be caldera related.