Every year the world deals with volcanos, tsunamis, hurricanes and more. But these are the “normal” natural disasters. There are plenty of others that haven’t really happened in our lifetime, or even at all yet. And that’s the scariest part about them. They haven’t happened yet. But they could.
10. Supervolcano Eruptions
Most people know that Yellowstone Park is sitting on top of a supervolcano. The last major eruption was 664,000 years ago. Before that, 1.3 million years. To many people, the math means it’s due for another one any time now. There’s no scientific evidence to support that idea, mind you. But it will likely happen again some day, even if it’s in thousands of years.
When the volcano blows again, ash will spread for thousands of miles. Several nearby states would be completely buried. And there are bigger supervolcanoes out there still.
In Indonesia, the Toba supervolcano erupted 74,000 years ago and led to a global winter that lasted nearly a decade. It’s believed that it nearly wiped out the human race just as we were evolving. If one of these supervolcanoes were to erupt again, there’d be little mankind could do to overcome it.
9. Gamma Ray Burst
Gamma radiation is not the sort of thing most of us stumble across in our day to day lives. For the most part, if you’re not the Incredible Hulk, you don’t know anything about it. But gamma rays could pose a serious threat to the Earth.
A gamma ray burst is an electromagnetic explosion that is caused by two neutron stars ramming into each other, or from the collapse of a massive star. If one happened close enough to the earth, that radiation burst could rip the ozone layer away from the planet. That, in turn, would leave us all exposed to unfiltered ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
In addition to the hole it would rip, gamma bursts also create ground ozone. That ozone could choke the life out of plants on the ground or seep into the ocean because it’s water soluble. If that happened it could cause a mass extinction of marine life.
8. Cascadian Earthquake
When you hear people talk about “the big one,” this is what they mean. This is the earthquake everyone has been expecting to hit the west coast for ages. The one that will hit the Cascadian subduction zone, a 600 mile fault line that goes from California to British Columbia.
In the year 1700, a 9.0 magnitude quake struck the fault line. There have only been four quakes of greater magnitude in the last century. One of them caused the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. The 1700 quake caused the coastline to drop several feet. If another quake of that magnitude were to hit, the potential for a tsunami with 100 foot waves would follow.
There’s a one in 10 chance that the next major earthquake in this area will happen in the next 50 years. The pressure has been slowly building since the last one and it’s not a matter of maybe it will happen, this one is a definite. This will happen, it’s just a matter of when. And if it’s big enough, it could set off the San Andreas fault.
If the quake is big enough, it’s predicted that everything west of Interstate 5 will be lost. About 140,000 square miles will be devastated. Thirteen thousand people will die, 27,000 will be injured and about a million will be displaced if FEMA predictions are correct. .
7. Wandering Black Hole
Most of us are aware of what a black hole is, at least in basic terms. It’s a big hole in space so powerful that not even light can escape it. Seems dangerous but in a far away and no big deal kind of way. Then you hear about wandering black holes, which actually move around in space, and suddenly things get a little creepier.
If a wandering black hole were to wander to our solar system, then the Earth would be doomed, as would everything on it. Because the earth and everything on it would cease to exist. Thirteen wandering black holes were spotted not far from Earth in 2020, although “not far” in space terms means one billion light years away, so don’t kiss your cat goodbye yet.
The possibility of such a disaster eating our planet is one that plays out over eons, so we’re probably all safe for now. And if you’re worried about man made black holes, like the ones people thought the Large Hadron Collider would make, don’t be. Those are harmless.
6. The Hilina Slump
If you know much about Hawaii, then you may already be aware of the Hilina Slump. It’s a landslide on the side of the Kilauea volcano and has the potential to cause a megatsunami.
The slump is made up of material from inside the volcano. Over time, it slowly makes its way down the volcano side and into the sea. It’s moving at a rate of a few inches per year. But if a massive eruption or earthquake occurred, the entire slump could potentially fall into the sea. If that happened, the results would be dramatic to say the least.
Researchers have suggested that the slide could create a magnitude 9 earthquake, one of the largest in history. The tsunami that accompanied such a quake would be unbelievable, with waves reaching up to 1,000 feet. In fact, it’s believed a similar event occurred some 110,000 years ago.
The odds of the same thing happening again are slim, but so is winning the lottery and people do that all the time, too.
If you’ve ever read the Bible, you’re aware that the idea of an all-consuming flood is by no means a new one. But so far, as far as anyone recalls, there’s never been a flood on that scale before. But climate change does make for a risky potential in the future.
Though California is mostly known for its earthquakes, droughts, and forest fires, flooding is also a big potential there. The chance for a megaflood in the state that could essentially shut it down for months is very real. California has endured crippling floods in the past, but they took place during the Civil War. The infrastructure in the state was not nearly what it is today, and the damage was not as severe. Nowadays, communication, sewer, transportation, all would be lost. Back in 2013 it was predicted flooding like this would uproot millions and cost $400 billion.
With a name like hypercane you know it’s going to be extreme. A hypercane is a theoretical hurricane that shames the hurricanes we all know of. The idea of a hypercane is that if the ocean were to become superheated as a result of climate change or something like a massive volcanic eruption, conditions would allow for the creation of a hurricane that extended beyond the lower stratosphere into the upper. Normal hurricanes do not do this.
A hypercane would have wind speeds of over 500 miles per hour. The internal pressure would be low enough that they would not wear out as quickly as normal hurricanes and could potentially last for weeks. It would also be able to destroy the ozone layer and probably be the size of the North American continent.
It’s possible a storm like this helped kill off the dinosaurs after the meteor impact. And while conditions don’t exist for them to form naturally today, the future is wide open.
3. An Impact Event
About 66 million years ago a meteor that was around seven miles wide collided with the earth. It was travelling at around 67,000 mph. The result was that around 75% of all life on planet died. Dinosaurs were wiped from the Earth. A winter that lasted for 18 months covered the Earth. And that wasn’t even the biggest meteor that’s ever hit the planet.
The fact is, meteors strike the Earth all the time. Many more just barely miss us. The odds on another one hitting us with the power of that one from 66 million years ago are not easily calculated because it’s incredibly hard to predict meteor strikes. We miss lots of them that are near missed until they’re just nearly missing us.
Scientists are attempting to set up early warning systems that might prevent events like the 1908 blast in Tunguska from being so devastating, at least insofar as allowing people time to evacuate. But if one the size of the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs arrives, no amount of preparation will ever make a difference.
2. A Deadlier Pandemic
As terrible as Covid-19 has been for the world, things could have been so much worse. The mortality rate of Covid has been estimated to be around 3.4%. We have a vaccine for it now and treatments that can help ameliorate the disease to some degree. The death toll worldwide has been high, however, with millions dead. Now imagine if Covid had not been the pandemic the world endured. Imagine if it was a disease like Ebola.
Ebola is a hemorrhagic virus which means it basically liquifies parts of your insides and makes you bleed out. It’s a horror movie made real and the mortality rate can get above 90%. Movies like “Outbreak” back in the day jumped on the Ebola scare mongering because the disease is so horrifying. You die within a week or two of getting it. But the movie ended with a hopeful cure, and people were mostly secure because so far Ebola outbreaks have been fairly isolated. But if they weren’t, if it spread as easily as Covid, or if someone weaponized it or a disease like it, then what? Or if it was a disease, like Covid-19, which was novel but deadlier?
If nothing else, Covid has proven that the potential is real. Another pandemic could show up at any time, and it could be deadlier. How would we handle it? We only have what we’ve seen from Covid-19 to go by as a predictor.
1. Massive Solar Flare
In terms of destructive capability, few disasters have the potential to damage society on the same scale as a solar flare. It won’t level buildings like an earthquake or a tsunami, and it won’t end life in the same way a meteor or supervolcano would. Instead, it has the potential to cripple our entire way of life by essentially destroying the entire electronic infrastructure of the planet. The estimated cost would be in the trillions of dollars. The deaths would follow later when all the other infrastructure failed. Food, medicine, transportation, communication. Things would tumble like dominoes and recovery would be very hard.
A solar flare in 1859 lit up the skies. A magnetic storm followed that caused aurora effects around the planet so bright you could read by them. Telegraphs became electrically charged even if they were disconnected and in some cases started fires. And that’s what the big problem would be today. Technology barely existed in 1859. Imagine if the electrical infrastructure of today’s world became magnetically supercharged.
The power grid would be shut down. That means finance and communication around the world are gone. And it could potentially take months or longer to fix it. Other disasters at least lay waste to everything. A solar flare with a geomagnetic storm would just send us back to the Dark Ages.