April 03, 2012
There's no place on this planet that's absolutely safe. No matter where you are, catastrophe awaits you -- eventually, in some form. Everywhere I've ever lived that's been the case, certainly.
In Massachusetts the big thing was huge blizzards. I got really tired of people telling me about the "Blizzard of '78" when I first moved there (early 1980's), but the reputation was deserved. It got so bad that people abandoned their cars on 128 and walked out. Once the snow melted it took a couple of days to clear all the cars out of the way so the highway could be used again.
I also lived for a few years in San Diego. You'd think the big thing there would be earthquakes, but not so much. San Diego isn't on the San Andreas, and anyway big earthquakes don't happen all that often. Yeah, we had some pretty interesting shakes, but I never saw any damage. No, the big thing I worried about there was wild fires. A couple of years after I moved away, there was a huge one that threatened the entire San Diego area. One part of the fire got within a mile of the place I used to live, and that area was evacuated.
Here in the Willamette valley, one of the big hazards is flooding. It doesn't snow here all that often, but once in a while we get quite a lot of snow, two or three feet. The danger in that case is a snap thaw, and that's happened twice in my life. Once was December 1964, and it's come down in local folklore as the "Christmas Flood". Another was when I was in college. At the time I lived in a small trailer house, and the trailer court was just south of Corvallis, right on the edge of the Mary's River. And my second year of college, we got a lot of snow and then there was a snap thaw. The Willamette and Mary's Rivers went out of their banks. Highway 99W was 2 feet deep in water, and my trailer court got flooded.
Some of the trailers got pretty seriously wrecked, though nothing got carried away. I found out that by sheer luck my own trailer was on the highest spot in the court, and in fact maybe the highest spot for a mile around, not counting the raised railroad track. There was maybe four inches of water on the ground below me, but it would have had to rise another two feet to get inside.
Of course, we also have to worry about the odd volcano blowing up, but that doesn't happen very often, and there's plenty of warning before it does. Still, that's pretty exciting when it happens. And about the only danger here from that is ash falls.
Up in Tacoma that's a nontrivial concern. They're NW of Mount Rainier, the biggest mountain in the Cascade Range, and one of the great mountains of the world. Like all the biggest mountains here, Rainier is a stratovolcano and it is not extinct. It doesn't erupt very often, but it can erupt. Next time Rainier wakes up, and it will eventually, it's gonna melt a major glacier and send a titanic mud flow down the Puyallup River valley, and a large part of Tacoma is going to be history. The whole area is set up with warning sirens, and they occasionally do evacuation drills.
It's easy to think, "Why do those people live in that awful dangerous place?" when some sort of disaster happens elsewhere, but that thought is bogus. Everywhere is a dangerous place. It's just that the dangers take different forms.
Bushfires, though, are a real danger.
Plus of course this is Australia, where every living thing wants to kill you and wear you as a hat.
Posted by: Pixy Misa at April 03, 2012 10:37 PM (PiXy!)
Nothing major has happened in terms of natural disasters since I was born though.
Posted by: Jordi Vermeulen at April 03, 2012 11:45 PM (AJZdn)
We usually get one big snowfall a year, but it's never anything TERRIBLE... 16" is a lot of snow, but it's still navigable... and that's the heaviest fall we've had since 1982.
It's no Minnesota, that's for sure.
Posted by: Wonderduck at April 04, 2012 04:51 AM (AzTWp)
Posted by: Dave Young at April 04, 2012 08:23 AM (gyQY/)
The big worry is that a major hurricane will head right up the Chesapeake, which would be a catastrophe, but its pretty rare.
Posted by: metaphysician at April 04, 2012 09:03 AM (3GCAl)
Hmm, I thought if you live in the NW close to the coast you were also in danger of giant tsunamis.
I live in Austin, TX and the we're too far south for tornadoes and blizzards, too far inland for hurricanes, no volcanos anywhere closeand the local fault is inactive.The most serious threat here is allergies.
Posted by: TBlakely at April 04, 2012 09:21 AM (FrffM)
Posted by: Don at April 04, 2012 09:30 AM (M0Ixe)
There are unusual threats everywhere. You don't think of Oregon as being the target of cyclones, but we got one in 1962.
My family was living in a trailer house on a lot we bought, while we built a house there. My dad designed the house, and he built it, evenings and weekends and vacations. My grandfather (a building foreman) came up all the time and helped, and sometimes other family friends would show up and work. My older brother helped a lot, and I helped as much as a 3rd grader can, which wasn't much.
We had the frame up, and it was all covered with plywood, but none of the internal partitions were in place yet. Then that storm hit. It picked up the roof and carried it about 75 feet and then dropped it on the ground.
It took us weeks to recover. We had to tear it all apart again, salvage as much of the lumber as we could, and buy replacements for all that was wrecked, and then put it all up again.
The Columbus Day Storm was a major disaster for this part of the country, mostly because such storms are incredibly rare. It's about like having a hurricane hitting Ireland -- it just doesn't happen. Except that in extremely freakish circumstances it can.
It took months before everything was back to normal. The phone company had crews in from most of the western half of the US restringing wire, and the power companies did the same.
There are places where you expect certain kinds of disasters. When you think Earthquake, you probably think California. But there's a huge fault in Missouri which has gone off in recorded history, and will again. When I think volcanoes, I think here, or Hawaii, or Iceland, or Japan. I don't think Wyoming. But the Yellowstone Caldera is a volcano which has explosive eruptions that make all those others look tiny. It doesn't go off very often (I think the period was 600,000 years) but it's due pretty soon, and when it happens it's going to devastate a large part of North America.
When I moved to Boston, I didn't expect hurricanes. But there were two while I lived there.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 04, 2012 10:18 AM (+rSRq)
We get the occasional tornado (nothing excessive) and we even had an earthquake last year (it was the damnedest thing... we only got a small bit of it, and it only lasted a couple seconds - no one realized what it was until it was over).
Posted by: Mark at April 04, 2012 12:01 PM (aUPJJ)
The tent I was in collapsed, so I foolishly took off running towards another tent a hundred yards away. The wind caught me me in mid-stride and my next foot did not touch ground. Luckily, I was grabbed by a very large man who was less aerodynamic than me, and he kept me grounded until the wind subsided.
Posted by: Siergen at April 04, 2012 02:26 PM (3/gGt)
Watching Mt. St. Helens erupt was spectacular, and awe-inspiring, but it wasn't particularly scary. The wind was blowing away from us, so we could clearly see the ash cloud which we didn't get any of.
Going through a 7.2 earthquake in San Diego one morning was interesting, but didn't really terrify me much. The epicenter was more than a hundred miles away, so my chandelier and venetian blinds swayed back and forth a lot, but nothing got broken. What was strangest about that one was how long it lasted. It was something like 3 minutes. But the ground motion was a slow sine wave, maybe 3-4 seconds period.
I think I was too young to really understand how scary the Columbus Day Storm really was, even during the time when we walked through it to go to the house next door. After our house blew down, my parents began to worry that the wind might topple our trailer, so we bailed out. My older brother walked alone. My dad carried my younger sister. I walked next to my mom, who held onto my hand very strongly, to the point where it almost hurt.
The flood in Corvallis had me a bit worried for a while, but that's really all it amounted to.
I haven't been through a natural disaster which outright terrified me. In fact, I don't think I've ever been in a situation where I was genuinely terrified. And I guess I'm lucky for that.
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 04, 2012 02:40 PM (+rSRq)
Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at April 04, 2012 03:10 PM (5OBKC)
Posted by: ubu at April 04, 2012 03:23 PM (GfCSm)
Yeah, Ubu, but there was a special reason why.
Pete, I thought you were from St. Petersburg. Am I remembering wrong? (Or did you serve in central Russia when you were in the army?)
Posted by: Steven Den Beste at April 04, 2012 06:36 PM (+rSRq)
St.Petersburg is famous for floods, and they eventually built a giant dam going across the Bay of Finland that protects the city. I never was there when it flooded.
Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at April 04, 2012 06:58 PM (5OBKC)
Posted by: muon at April 05, 2012 03:26 AM (JXm2R)
I will note that the tornado you see is not nearly as scary* as the one which the news says is right on top of you, and you cannot see anything. (*unless it is heading toward you, of course).
Now I live in Colorado, a few miles NW of Denver (in Broomfield, if anyone cares). Things seem pretty calm here, although we are still ostensibly at risk of tornadoes.
Posted by: dkallen99 at April 05, 2012 08:10 AM (2lHZP)
I've lived my whole life in ND/MN.
When I was a kid, we went camping, and lightning struck a power pole near our campsite. Everything looked white for a couple seconds, and when I started thinking again, I was standing a good 10 feet from where I (thought I) was when the bolt hit.
Attended UND; in 5 years the university closed up shop 10 days, 5 for "there's too dang much snow" and 5 for "the windchill is too low to let students walk around outdoors".
Then the Red River of the North flood in 1997 leveled the whole town (whole region, really... the normally-40-yards wide river was covering 10-20 miles since the Red River "valley" is flat. Ruler-flat. Tsundere-imouto-flat.)
Moved to Minneapolis after college that year, and within a year had a tornado rip the shingles off my apartment building and the whole roof off the adjacent one.
I'm hoping that's enough disasters for one lifetime...
Posted by: Mikeski at April 05, 2012 10:38 AM (SWgny)
I still wish I'd gone outside and looked up when the eye passed over, but whomever said the winds are calm in an eye meant "relatively."
Posted by: ubu at April 05, 2012 02:54 PM (GfCSm)
Enclose all spoilers in spoiler tags:
[spoiler]your spoiler here[/spoiler]
Spoilers which are not properly tagged will be ruthlessly deleted on sight.
Also, I hate unsolicited suggestions and advice. (Even when you think you're being funny.)
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