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Essential Guide to Natural Disasters in California
It's not just wildfires that are a danger to California. There are other natural disasters too, some of which you might not have even heard about before. If you live in the Golden State, this article will help prepare you for all of them.
This article lists many different natural disasters that could happen in California and what they mean for your safety and preparedness. You'll learn how each disaster can affect you and what steps to take to make sure it doesn't cause any problems for you or those around you. For each disaster, we'll cover: What the disaster is; where it usually happens in California; how extensive it is in the state; and ways to prepare yourself if your area is prone to experiencing this type of event.
Avalanches in California
An avalanche can be a very dangerous natural disaster to encounter in California. Avalanches are typically only a problem when it's the winter season, from December to March. In California, avalanches usually happen in mountain ranges with heavy snowfall. The most common places avalanches occur are in the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe areas.
Avalanche warnings are issued by the National Weather Service when there is a risk of avalanches. A warning will go out when there is a danger of an avalanche due to new or changing weather conditions, such as rain or winds. Some warning signs include large accumulations of recent post-holing on easy slopes with higher elevations around you, a significant change in weather forecast, a rapid temperature drop, and a rise in humidity.
Drought & Extreme Heat in California
Extreme heat is a type of natural disaster that can pose a danger to California. Drought often develops at the same time, contributing to the severity of this natural disaster. California is considered one of the most at-risk states in the U.S. for extreme heat events with climate change projections predicting more frequent and prolonged periods of high temperatures and drought.
Conditions that contribute to heat disasters include: lack of adequate water supply, inadequate cooling by nature or manufactured devices, and unsafe work or living conditions for people who depend on outdoor labor and vulnerable populations such as the elderly and young children. Heat waves cause hot weather instability which requires constant vigilance and response particularly if you live in an urban area where there's less open land and shade.
Extreme heat can be harmful to your health. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include: excessive thirst, heavy sweating, pale and clammy skin, muscle cramps, weakness or fatigue, headache, nausea or vomiting, dizziness/lightheadedness, fainting. To prevent heat-related illness from occurring you should gradually increase your level of physical activity. If you start to experience these symptoms during or after physical activity, stop what you are doing and rest in a cool environment.
Earthquakes in California
Earthquakes are a natural disaster that could happen in California. They're also the most prevalent form of natural disaster to strike the state. Earthquakes happen because there is so much buildup and release of tension, heat and pressure beneath the earth's surface. California has a lot of geological activity due to this buildup and release, so it's no surprise that these types of disasters occur there frequently.
The main hazard from earthquakes is ground shaking, which can damage buildings and infrastructure such as bridges and roads. This natural disaster can cause injuries or death to those caught off guard or inside buildings during an earthquake. Damage from earthquakes can also lead to secondary hazards such as fires, hazardous materials spills, transportation interruptions, power outages and flooding. To prepare yourself for an earthquake you should be able to identify safe locations in your home, workplace and/or school. These places include inside doorways or next to strong interior walls.
Floods in California
A flood is a natural disaster where water overflows its boundaries due to excessive rain, melting snow, or seismic activity. Floods are particularly dangerous in urban areas because of limited geographic space for the water to run off into.
Flooding can also lead to secondary disasters, which are often overlooked or considered after-effects. Secondary disasters resulting from floods include: road damage and overflowing sewers, fires due to electrical issues, spoiled food and pesticides in rivers and streams, contamination of wells with raw sewage, dangers of serious injury or death for animals swept along by the water. Even though California is not known for regular flooding, California is highly vulnerable to major flash flooding due to its river systems. The Los Angeles River itself was channelized to prevent the regular flooding that Los Angeles saw before it was built. So flash flooding remains a risk.
To prepare for a flood you should have an emergency kit or "bug out bag" on hand with food, water and supplies to last at least 72 hours. You should also design an emergency plan so that your entire family knows what to do in case of a flood. Floods can go from being a gentle flow of water to being incredibly dangerous in a matter of seconds. You should also ensure that you have an emergency plan for your animals in case they need to be evacuated or left behind.
Tropical Storms in California
Only two tropical storms have struck California since 1900, both of which came ashore via direct landfall from the ocean and one of which after making landfall in Mexico.
Typically, tropical cyclones don't get the chance to develop in the Pacific Ocean because of unfavorable conditions. However, when these systems do get a chance to form in this region they tend to be very dangerous and can cause a lot of damage. Be prepared for floods, mudslides, rock slides and avalanches.
Landslides & Debris Flow in California
Landslides are a natural disaster that can happen in California. These types of disasters happen when there is heavy rain or snow, which leads to saturated ground. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes, volcanic activity, wildfires, construction work, and weakened trees. Landslides can create secondary disasters because they typically lead to flooding or blocked river channels. To prepare for this type of natural disaster you should make sure you are aware of the risk for landslides in your area. This could be done by contacting your local fire department or conducting an internet search on the risk level for landslides in your area.
Debris Flow is another form of natural disaster that can happen in California. Unlike landslides, where water builds up and there is a sudden collapse of the land, debris flows are more like avalanches. Debris flows can happen in areas where there is steep terrain covered with loose soil or rock. They typically follow rivers and streams downhill until they reach flat land, which is why they cause so much damage to houses and roads at the bottom of mountains. To prepare for this type of natural disaster you should make sure that your house is built to be resistant to flooding and water damage. You should also gather as many supplies as possible before a debris flow releases, as the materials may become difficult to acquire after one occurs.
Nuclear Disasters in California
California has only one remaining nuclear power plant after decommissioning most of its previous plants. However, several other states and countries have nuclear power plants close the California border. These sites include: The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in Arizona, The San Onofre Nuclear Generated Station (SONGS) in Southern California, and Diablo Canyon Power Plant along the central coast of California. Although there has not been a nuclear disaster to hit California yet, should a nuclear disaster like the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Disaster in Japan occur, you should prepare for long term health effects and food and water shortages.
Power Outages in California
Power outages are usually seen as a consequence of a natural disaster rather than a natural disaster itself. However, as California learned in the 1990s, extended power outages due to cyberattack, mismanagement, etc can create severe issues for the State and individuals. When a disaster hits, it might take time for the utility company to fix damage, especially if they have been damaged as well. In some scenarios, power companies may even be unable to bring their equipment back online.
Severe Weather & Thunderstorms in California
Most thunderstorms occur in the summer and spring months. Thunderstorms can happen any time of year, but they are most common between May and October. Unpredictable thunderstorms can be dangerous if you're caught outdoor because they may come with cold downpours, strong winds, and even hail. To prepare for a thunderstorm make sure that you and your family install and maintain gutters and downspouts to direct water away from your home. You should also clear leaves away from your roof to reduce the risk of moss buildup.
Tornadoes in California
Although tornadoes in California are unusual, they aren't uncommon. The state experiences about a dozen tornadoes each year, most of which are brief and weak. Most occur in the Central Valley, where low-level southerly winds are boosted up the length of the valley. You can prepare for a tornado by knowing what to do when one occurs. If you're in the path of a tornado, get away from windows and other outside walls take cover underground if possible or seek shelter in the innermost part of a multi-story building.
Tsunamis in California
Tsunamis are caused by undersea earthquakes, landslides, or volcanic eruptions. The tsunami may originate in one country but affect many other countries as well, which is why it is important to be prepared for tsunamis. Tsunami warnings are issued when a tsunami has the potential to threaten coastal regions, but they can also be generated by landslides inland or explosions at sea. To prepare for a tsunami you should have an emergency kit that includes 72 hours worth of food and water and supplies like a flashlight with extra batteries and a portable radio with extra batteries. You should also know the evacuation routes from your home and your community in case you need to leave quickly.
Volcanoes in California
At least seven California volcanoes-including Medicine Lake Volcano, Mount Shasta, Lassen Volcanic Center, Clear Lake Volcanic Field, Long Valley Volcanic Region, Coso Volcanic Field, and Salton Buttes -have partially molten rock (magma) deep within their roots and will erupt again in the near future, according to the USGS. California and the USGS do closely monitor all seismic and volcanic activity, but it pays to be aware of nearby threats.
Wildfires in California
Other than earthquakes, wildfires are by far California's most well-known (and arguably more dangerous) natural disaster). Every summer, hot, dry weather conditions make California's forests and lands especially susceptible to wildfires. Even if you do not live in fire zone, every Californian will certainly be affected by wildfire, whether by smoke, fire, power outages, road blockages, or other effects.
Wildfires are common throughout California, but the bulk of wildfires start in Northern California , including areas in Shasta County, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Mendocino National Forest, Modoc National Forest, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest/Mt. Tobin Wilderness Area , and Plumas County. However, wildfires can also occur in Central California , Sierra Nevada Mountains , Mojave Desert, Los Angeles County , San Bernardino County/Riverside County line, Santa Barbara County, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Southern California.
Winter Weather in California
Winter weather is common in California, but it only affects the areas of high elevation, especially in the Sierra Nevadas. Winter weather can lead to flash floods and avalanches, but the most common consequence is shortages of electricity and fuel. However, if you live in a coastal area or near a major California river (like Sacramento River), winter storms might affect you by causing mudslides and floods.
The natural disasters in California can be devastating for any family. It is important to take the necessary precautions, whether you live by yourself or with others, so that everyone's health and safety are accounted for. For each of these hazards, it is imperative to know what they are (earthquakes, wildfires), where they happen most frequently (Northern California around Shasta County), how severe they are on a scale from 1-10 (between 7-8) , and how to prepare them if needed. If this article has taught you anything about natural disasters in your state then we have done our job! Hopefully now you will feel more informed when approaching the inevitable topic of disaster preparedness at home or work.