Natural Disasters of 2014

Polar Vortex 2014
Chicago during the 2014 Polar Vortex. Photo by: akasped, flickr

In 2014, we saw our fair share of disasters. From cold outbreaks to mudslides, earthquakes, and tornados, the year was yet another reminder to prepare for the unexpected. Here’s a quick review of the different disasters we witnessed in 2014:

1) The Polar Vortex – Kicking off 2014, on January 5th the “polar vortex” affected 240 million people in the United States and southern Canada. This was an extreme weather event, with an Arctic cold front starting in Canada and crossing into the United States. Temperatures went as low as -51°C with an extreme snowfall, and the air was so cold that frost bite could settle in in as little as five minutes. All in all, approximately 3,700 flights were canceled and many schools were closed as a safety precaution. The US National Weather service said that this was the ‘coldest weather in years’.

2) California Drought – January 28th marked the third straight year of drought conditions in California, with 2014 being the driest year on record. It was also the region’s worst drought in 1,200 years. The high temperatures along with the unprecedented low amounts of rainfall played a major role in the occurrence of this drought, with water levels dropping and reservoirs beginning to dry up, To address these issues, the State of California regulated water use for residents, and the Sustainable Ground Water Basin Management Act was passed by the Legislature. With this act, water reservoirs will be better equipped to ensure a reliable water supply in the future with water conservation, recycling, and storage efforts.

3) China Smog – On January 30th, air quality was deemed ‘hazardous’ in China for the fourth time that month. The smog reduced visibility to less than 200 meters in parts of Beijing, canceling flights and closing roads across the city. Residents were forced to use face masks and avoid physical activity, while the city has seen an influx of respiratory problems as a result of the smog. Fortunately a front of rain and wind managed to blow the smog away and normal service resumed. As a whole, China’s pollution is to blame for this issue, but the country has since adopted emergency measures to control it.

4) Washington Mudslide – A major landslide occurred on March 22nd in Oso, Washington. A portion of the unstable hillside collapsed, sending mud and debris down into the river valley below while taking nearly everything in its path down with it. Sadly, 41 people have been confirmed as casualties to the slide, and a number of people still remain unaccounted for. The cause of the slide is believed to be ground water saturation from heavy rainfall in the weeks leading up to the event. One thing that is not to be forgotten in this disaster is the amazing work of the rescue teams. Search and rescue, first responders, volunteers, rescue dogs and response organizations, such as the Red Cross and FEMA, worked tirelessly in the recovery efforts of the slide, and we cannot thank them enough for this!

5) Chile Earthquake – An 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook northern Chile on April 1st. This resulted in a tsunami of up to 2.1 meters in height hitting some areas, as well as power outages, fires and landslides. Approximately 928,000 people were evacuated and 2,500 homes sustained serious structural damage from the natural disaster. Luckily, Chile had implemented strict building codes and had gone through many evacuation plans which contributed to the safety of the residents in this earthquake. The Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet, gave special recognition to the local authorities for responding in an “exemplary manner” to the earthquake and the subsequent tsunami. Bachelet also noted “This is a great example to all of us that when we work together in an adequate manner and when we follow the plans that have been established in the region, we work well.”

6) Arkansas Tornado – On April 30th a tornado blistered through Arkansas. It started when a storm moved to the Great Plains from the Rockies, bringing a cold front and an increased possibility of thunderstorms. The storm caused a supercell (a storm with rotating updrafts) to develop, which resulted in the massive tornado. The tornado went through Vilonia, White County and Faulkner County, lasting an hour and destroying property in these areas. Thankfully, the response by volunteers and the efforts of first responders was seen as heroic and received special praise from President Obama.
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7) Afghanistan Mudslide – On May 5th a tragic landslide killed as many as 2,700 people in Afghanistan. The Aab Baarik area in north eastern Afghanistan had hundreds of homes destroyed and left about 4,000 people displaced. The area was buried by a tide of rock and mud caused by heavy rains, with many homes falling under 160 feet of mud. The Afghan Army responded by sending army helicopters to deliver water, food, medicine and tents. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also played an important role, as they arranged for the displaced residents to be taken care of by host families or to have a tent for temporary shelter.

Aghan Mudslide
Photo by: Daily Mail


8) Iceland Volcano – Even though the volcano that erupted in Iceland on August 29th wasn’t as severe as the one in 2010, it still caught attention. The lava spread 70 square kilometers, covering an area larger than the size of Manhattan and the magma volume from the earthquake was the largest in Iceland in a century. The eruption was still going months later, making the outdoors unsafe for nearby communities because of the sulfur-dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Beyond that though, the largest threat was to airplanes in the area as the particles can damage jet engines.

 Iceland Volcano
Photo by: Eggert Johannesson, flickr

9) Yosemite Wildfire – A massive wildfire burned  on September 26th at the Yosemite National Park in California. To date, it has burned over 4,761 acres and the cost to contain it has been close to $4 million. This fire was thought to have been started by lightning but we were relieved to hear that all tourists and hikers were evacuated safely. Because the fire was contained so well by the emergency services, the park remained open to the public and did not affect people’s visits – an amazing achievement!

10) Philippines Typhoon Hagupit – A massive typhoon swept across the central Philippines on December 8, 2014. This typhoon was reminiscent to one the country faced last year, Typhoon Haiyan, but thankfully the damage and fatalities were much less serious. Approximately a million people were evacuated from vulnerable areas, and the physical damage was limited to roofs being blown away and streets flooding. Orla Fagan, spokeswoman for the United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA said the outcome was because “there was a lot of preparation”. She added “I think that the lessons learned were very hard ones in Tacloban … because there were so many lives lost, and I think they’ve really taken cognizance this time and really made an all-out effort everywhere to bring people to safety”.

2014 certainly proved how adequate emergency preparation and effective evacuation processes can make a huge difference, and literally save lives. What are your thoughts on the preparation for natural disasters in 2014, and the amazing response from volunteers, first responders, and humanitarian organizations? Share your impressions with us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+!

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