Musings On Having Natural Disasters as a Determining Factor on Where to Live

Musings On Having Natural Disasters as a Determining Factor on Where to Live

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This post began as a comment to an article on Space City Weather.  Space City Weather is a great site for accessible, hype-free weather information for the Houston area.  I highly recommend it.

I wrote this in response to some people discussing the impact of Harvey on where they want to live or go to school. The general gist is that I don’t think disasters should be a major factor in those decisions.  It can certainly be used to narrow down options.

There is no place you can go to escape natural disasters. In general, the US is one of the countries best able to withstand them. Our infrastructure, for all its faults, is actually quite good. A large death toll in this country is over 50. In most of the world, that would be unbelievably light.

As a for instance, China has at least nine of the world’s 46 deadliest earthquakes for which we have any kind of record (including a 16th-century earthquake which killed in excess of 800,000 people). Four of these happened in the last century. The top 3 deadliest disasters of all time happened in China, and they have five of the top 10.

We are so accustomed to relatively light death tolls that many people never thought we would see a hurricane kill in excess of 1000 people in this country. Then Katrina happened. Many thought we would never see tornado outbreaks that would kill several hundred people. Then the April 2017 Super Outbreak happened. Many thought a single tornado would never kill over 100 people again. Then Joplin happened. For my part, I was always in the “it’s going to happen again” camp.

In reality, there’s nowhere you can go. The first ever Flash Flood Emergency was issued in Tennesse, and I believe it was for a non-tropical event. You can make a strong case that the worst place to live in this country with regards to tornadoes is not Tornado Alley, but rather in northern Alabama. Indeed, the two largest tornado outbreaks on record (April 1974 and April 2011) happened between the Mississippi River and the Appalachians, with Alabama being especially hard hit in both. Anywhere from the Plains west, you have a heightened risk of wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanoes. The north has blizzards. I think we all know the hazards facing Hawaii. Almost everyone has a risk of severe droughts. Most everyone has a risk of devastating heat waves.

In determining where to live, where to go to school, etc, it should really be about maximizing whatever you determine to be your quality of life. The types of disasters you might face can certainly factor into that. For myself, I would much rather deal with tornadoes and hurricanes than earthquakes. Earthquakes are essentially the only natural disaster that can strike without warning. At best, you might get a few seconds. Tornadoes and hurricanes give lots of warning, ranging from hours to days. The bulk of them also occurs within well-defined times of the year.

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