It's sometimes easy to forget how in control Mother Nature is. Other times, not so much. Natural disasters are destructive reminders of the absolute power of forces outside our control. Some disasters are more devastating than others, resulting in particularly calamitous events with a widespread impact, greater loss of life, and immense power.
Hurricane Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that formed and made landfall during the 2005 hurricane season. This tropical cyclone devastated the Gulf of Mexico, and the actual death toll for this storm is still unknown. Some sources place the death toll at over 1,800, and over 130 people are still officially classified as "missing." Other human costs of the storm were also astronomical: Katrina displaced over 1,000,000 people, and the population of the city over a year after the disaster was half of what it was in pre-Katrina years. In addition to being devastating in its loss of life, Katrina also ties with Hurricane Harvey (2017) as the costliest hurricane. Estimated damages come to about $125 billion USD.
The 1883 eruption of the Krakatoa (or Krakatau) volcano made waves--literally. The sheer force of the explosion from this caldera was so intense that it created a pressure wave that traveled all the way around the world more than 3 times! Reports from the time state that people 3,000 miles away from Krakatoa heard its mighty explosion. The eruption itself not only decimated the vast majority of the island this volcano is situated on, but it also claimed more than 36,000 human lives. The fact that this mega eruption caused a volcanic winter, which made the entire world's temperature drop for years after, solidifies the 1883 event as one of the worst natural disasters that humans have ever recorded.
You can't talk about earthquakes without mentioning the 1960 Chilean earthquake, also widely referred to as the 1960 Valdivia earthquake. This eruption is the most powerful one we've ever managed to record, registering at 9.5 on the moment magnitude scale. A rumbling that powerful naturally had wide-reaching consequences. This earthquake triggered landslides, as well as tsunamis that reached all the across the ocean to various countries, including Japan and Australia. The Cordón Caulle eruption shortly after is also attributed to this quake.
Widely known as the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the original event was a sub-ocean quake that was one of the most powerful ever recorded, surpassed by only two other events (including the 1960 Chilean quake). This underwater earthquake naturally resulted in tsunamis that traveled hundreds of miles an hour. The tsunamis hit several countries, with recorded heights of waves reaching over 100 feet tall. The resulting natural disaster claimed almost 230,000 human lives.
This 1871 fire was a blaze that ignited in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. While recent wildfire seasons might come to mind when thinking about natural disasters in the United States, this event was actually the deadliest fire in the nation's history, claiming anywhere from 1,500 to 2,500 lives. What helped make this particularly tragedy so incredibly lethal was the fact that conditions were met to create a firestorm, with some reports even claiming that a fire tornado had taken place.
The deadliest record blizzard in human history hit Iran in 1972. The estimated death toll is about 4,000 people, with reports saying the storm decimated the populations of entire villages. With sub-zero freezing temperatures and the highest reported snowfall of 26 feet, this storm is definitely one of the worst tragedies to occur by a natural disaster.
The deadliest tornado ever recorded struck Bangladesh--one of the most tornado-prone countries in the world--in 1989. The human loss of this storm was estimated to be 1,300 deaths, 12,000 injuries, and 80,000 people becoming homeless. Bangladesh experiences more tornadoes than any other country on the planet, besides the United States and Canada.
The United States experiences more tornadoes on an annual basis than any other country on Earth, with some estimates saying the country experiences about 1,200 of these storms in a given year. Most largely occur in what is known as "Tornado Alley," a large area concentrated in the middle of the country. As such, it comes as no surprise that the longest-recorded path of any tornado occurred in this area. What is known as the Tri-State tornado hit in 1925, traveling up to 73 mph along path that stretched 219 miles. It is so named because it crossed 3 states: Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. The widespread path of this storm resulted in F5 damage, the highest amount on the Fujita scale. It is also the most lethal tornado in the country, resulting in nearly 700 deaths.
The devastation of the China Floods of 1931 stretched far beyond the initial death tolls of the floods themselves, into the extreme disease, famine, and suffering they caused as well. No one is sure of the death toll: conservative estimates say that 300,000 lost their lives while other reports claim that 4,000,000 lives were lost. Official government reports at the time state that the floods affected more than 25 million people, although the actual number could certainly be higher. Besides deaths from the initial flooding, the rising waters triggered widespread disease. Additionally, the massive area covered by the flood meant that crops were ruined, sparking a massive famine. Some accounts claim that the food shortage was so bad that people had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.
Anything that wipes out 75-80% of the Earth's population is absolutely brutal; that is precisely what happened during the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event more than 66 million years ago. The Alvarez hypothesis states that an asteroid is what ultimately triggered the sudden mass extinctions. The sheer size and force of the impact sparked a type of global winter that devastated plant life, which in turn eliminated the food sources for many animals. The Chicxulub crater, located in Mexico, was created by an impact event around the same time as this extinction event, lending credence to this hypothesis.