Natural disasters

  • Assessing flood risk in a changing climate

    Growing consensus on climate and land use change means that it is reasonable to assume, at the very least, that flood levels in a region may change. In an argument grounded in an analysis of the inherent limitations of statistical analyses, the authors of a new study suggest that researchers’ typical starting assumption that flood behavior is not changing — even in the face of suspected trends in extreme events and knowledge of how difficult such trends are to detect — causes water managers to undervalue flood protection benefits, opening the door to unnecessary losses down the line.

  • Kansas, Missouri invest in tornado safe-rooms

    Last year’s tornado season prompted officials in Kansas and Missouri to invest heavily in safe rooms to shelter residents from future severe weather events. Schools tend to be popular choices for safe rooms, but new funding from FEMA is helping cities build safe rooms in other public spaces. The safe rooms are built to withstand tornado winds of up to 250 mph, and can survive being hit by a 67 mph projectile vertically or 100 mph horizontally.

  • New Bay Area hospital is constructed to withstand the most severe earthquake

    The new Stanford Hospital is being constructed to withstand the most severe tremors. The new hospital will be placed on 206 base isolators, enormous parallel steel plates with a sort of ball bearing suspension system between them, providing a buffer between the building and the moving ground. Each plate can move as much as three feet in any direction, allowing the building to shift up to six feet during seismic activity. Reducing horizontal movement during an earthquake minimizes the strain on a building’s vertical load-bearing structures. When completed, in 2017, the building will be one of the most seismically safe hospitals in the country, able to continue operations after an 8.0, or “great,” earthquake.

  • Scientists urge making critical infrastructure more resilient to solar storms

    Scientists predict the probability of a massive solar storm striking the Earth in the next decade to be 12 percent. The 23 July 2012 solar storm was pointed away from Earth and blasted safely into space, but had it been directed towards Earth, it would have produced the worst geomagnetic storm in more than four centuries, causing extensive electricity problems that could take years to resolve. Scientists are debating the amount of damage the grid would suffer during a massive solar storm. The U.S. National Academy of Sciencesestimated in 2008 that the damage and disruption could reach up to $2 trillion with a full recovery time between four and ten years.

  • California builds a sophisticated Emergency Response Training Center

    Citing the need for further emergency training, some Sacramento County officials have proposed a plan to construct a $56 million training facility for Californian emergency responders which would handle all types of training and scenarios.

  • U.S. nuclear plant licensees should seek, act on nuclear plant hazards information

    A new report concludes that the overarching lesson learned from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident is that nuclear plant licensees and their regulators must actively seek out and act on new information about hazards with the potential to affect the safety of nuclear plants. The committee that wrote the report examined the causes of the Japan accident and identified findings and recommendations for improving nuclear plant safety and offsite emergency responses to nuclear plant accidents in the United States.

  • National vision needed to achieve comprehensive risk reduction along Atlantic, Gulf coasts

    A national vision for coastal risk management that includes a long-term view, regional solutions, and recognition of the full array of economic, social, environmental, and safety benefits that come from risk management is needed to reduce the impacts of natural disasters along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States, says a new report. To support this vision, a national coastal risk assessment is needed to identify coastal areas that face the greatest threats and are high priorities for risk-reduction efforts.

  • Using natural, engineering solutions to help U.K. address extreme weather events

    The United Kingdom is seeing increased seasonal flood damage not only from coastal and river surges, but from rising groundwater as well. The scale and unpredictability of these events in recent years, while devastating, can also serve as a helpful mirror of future climate change and its predicted effects in the longer term. Experts say that natural solutions, such as reforestation, to improve flood defenses and attempts to keep water in place may provide both short and long term solutions.

  • Drought-driven use of underground water threatens water supply of western U.S.

    Scientists find that more than 75 percent of the water loss in the drought-stricken Colorado River Basin since late 2004 came from underground resources. The Colorado River is the only major river in the southwest part of the United States. Its basin supplies water to about forty million people in seven states, as well as irrigating roughly four million acres of farmland. Monthly measurements in the change in water mass from December 2004 to November 2013 revealed the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet (65 cubic kilometers) of freshwater, almost double the volume of the nation’s largest reservoir, Nevada’s Lake Mead. More than three-quarters of the total — about 41 million acre feet (50 cubic kilometers) — was from groundwater. The extent of groundwater loss may pose a greater threat to the water supply of the western United States than previously thought.

  • Remote cameras monitor Montana wildfires

    Fire officials on the Powell District of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest, in partnership with the University of Montana, are testing a system of cameras remotely to monitor wildfires. The district has cameras mounted on two fire lookout towers and a third mobile camera that can be deployable as needed. Operators at the Powell Ranger Districtcontrol the cameras to provide multiple viewpoints of the targeted area.

  • Updating information about U.S. regional earthquake hazards

    The USGS recently updated their U.S. National Seismic Hazard Maps, which reflect the best and most current understanding of where future earthquakes will occur, how often they will occur, and how hard the ground will likely shake as a result. While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in fifty years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that sixteen states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6 or greater. To help make the best decisions to protect communities from earthquakes, new USGS maps display how intense ground shaking could be across the nation.

  • First federal funds for West Coast earthquake warning system

    Efforts by California officials to expand an earthquake warning system for the West Coast gained ground last Tuesday as the House Appropriations Committeerecommended $5 million — the first federal funds specifically for the project — toward the warning system. Analysts project the system will cost $38.3 million to build, and $16.1 million a year to operate and maintain. The $5 million would allow the purchase and installation of additional sensors and hiring of staff.

  • A drone finds natural disaster survivors through their cell-phones

    During his semester project in Computer Science at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Jonathan Cheseaux developed a system for locating a person via his or her mobile phone with a drone. This device could be used to find victims in natural disasters.

  • Japan exceedingly vulnerable to sea level rise

    Scientists say that Japan might be one of the most at-risk nations when it comes to the consequences of sea-level rise.Japan has a coastline 30,000 km long, and much of it in largely low-elevation regions. Additionally, about 80 percent of the country’s industry and population are located in these zones.

  • Debate in Texas over fossil fuel-based economic growth

    Texas officials tout the state’s economic growth, which is due in part to the state’s energy sector. That same energy sector puts Texas’ economy at risk in decades to come, with scientists saying that this economic growth comes at a high cost.State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by then-Governor George W. Bush, notes that the state is projected to be several degrees warmer and experience longer and more severe droughts. The see along portions of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast has already risen up to one foot in the past century.