No matter how peaceful the world is, how happy we are, or what advances we make, there is one thing we can never prevent: natural disasters. These are Mother Nature’s way of reminding us just how powerful the Earth’s storms are. These are the 20 of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.
One of just four Category 5 hurricanes to hit the United States, Andrew – noted by wind speeds over 157 mph, with catastrophic damage expected – hit on August 24th, 1992, and left 160,000 people homeless in Florida.
The Great Plains saw thousands of farmers looking to take advantage of the rich soil for the cash crop wheat. Unfortunately, non-sustainable farming practices mixed with a decade-long drought created the Dust Bowl from 1930 to 1936. Loose and dry topsoil was kicked up by the wind, darkening the sky for miles.
Great Natchez Tornado
Natchez, Mississippi saw one of its worst tornados on May 7th, 1840. Ripping through 116 flat boats, the steamboat Hinds, and many houses and plantations. The official death toll is 317, but could be more, given that enslaved people weren’t counted at the time.
Great Galveston Hurricane
Galveston is a little island off the coast of Texas. While the area is no stranger to storms in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Galveston Hurricane is the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Between 6,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives on September 8, 1900.
San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
Small earthquakes are all too common in San Francisco, but April 8th, 1906 saw a 7.9 magnitude one rip through the California city. Damage to gas lines and water lines afterward created fires that firefighters couldn’t manage, increasing the death toll.
Hurricane Sandy hit New York in October of 2012. While the people were prepared, the strong winds took down electrical services. This storm even caused the stock market to close for the first time since 1888.
Winter Storm Uri
This is the most recent natural disaster that hit Texas just a few years ago, in February of 2021. Winter Storm Uri took down the power grid, leaving thousands without heat. Broken pipes, flood damage, and snowed-in houses helped lead to the 246 death toll.
Twenty million tons of water traveling at 40 mph completely destroyed the town of Johnstown. May 31st, 1889 was when this horrific disaster occurred. Thanks to the South Fork Dam collapse, 1,600 homes were destroyed, and over 2,000 died in the resulting flood.
The Peshtigo Fire
October 8th, 1871 was the date of the deadliest fires in U.S. history. Reportedly, the disaster began as a brush fire that got out of control and between 1,500 and 2,500 lives were lost in Peshtigo, Wisconsin. Residents of the land described the fire racing towards them as like the sound of a freight train.
The Great Chicago Fire
Does the date in the last one seem familiar? That’s because it occurred on October 8th, 1871, the same day as the Great Chicago Fire. The Chicago Fire left more than 100,000 people homeless. Though it took fewer lives than the Peshtigo, it was still one of the worst natural disasters.
From a simple ocean wave to a tropical storm to a hurricane. Hurricane Maria underwent a process called “explosive intensification” that led it to destroy the coasts of the U.S. and Puerto Rico, claiming 3,000 lives. Making landfall on September 16th, 2017 the storm lasted till Oct. 2nd!
Great amounts of rain and a rush of meltwater caused all three rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to burst their banks, causing this horrible flood on March 17th, 1936. While only a handful lost their lives that day, many more lost their livelihoods when businesses and homes flooded, causing irreparable damage.
This is probably one of the most well-known hurricanes in modern times. Katrina only hit as a Category 3, but due to flaws in the flood protection system, it claimed 1,836 when levees burst. The biggest city hit was New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 29th, 2005.
Kilauea volcano in Hawaii exploded for 18 days in May of 1924. While not starting out deadly, the flying debris and boulders claimed the life of one photographer on day one. Subsequent tremors due to the eruption took more lives in the following days.
North American Heat Wave
During the summer of 1936, the North American heat wave scorched a large part of the upper United States at record-high temperatures. 5,000 people died from heat-related sickness.
San Circao Hurricane
From August 3rd to September 4th, 1899, the San Circao Hurricane ravaged island after island before hitting the North Carolina mainland. 250,000 were left homeless, 3,000 dead. Even more were impacted by the major flooding due to rain before and after the storm.
The storm system traveling from Tupelo, Mississippi to Gainesville, Georgia took a combined 419 lives on April 5th, 1936. Seven hundred people were injured in Tupelo, including the city’s only hospital, leaving those in need to be treated in a makeshift hospital in the courthouse.
There is definitely a “winner” in this list. Hurricanes have continually been some of the deadliest and worst disasters in our history. Hurricane Harvey is no exception, causing about $125 billion in damage and over 100 deaths. This hurricane occurred on August 17th, 2017, hitting Texas and Louisiana.
Blizzards combine heavy snowfall, strong winds, and freezing temps into one horrible storm. The Greta Blizzard of 1949 hit four states, hitting Wyoming the hardest, and took ten times as many lives as the other states. Loss of livestock and damage to buildings hit the states hard after the snow cleared.
Mount St Helens Eruption
One of the most well-known volcanic eruptions in United States history was that of Mount St Helens, which lay dormant for over 100 years before erupting on March 27, 1980. This explosion caused a 5.1-magnitude earthquake and 57 deaths.
Incredible Tales of Survival and the Movies That Brought Them to Life
These stories feature various aspects of human survival, from braving the elements and enduring isolation to overcoming unexpected disasters. Each of these tales provides a unique perspective on the indomitable human spirit and our will to survive against all odds. So captivating are these true stories that they’ve even inspired filmmakers to bring them to life on the big screen.
The World’s Most Beautiful Mountain Ranges
For as long as humans have existed, mountains have inspired and daunted us. They’re the basis for countless legends, and although they can be deadly, have an irresistible pull on us, drawing millions of sightseers, hikers, climbers, skiers, and other outdoor enthusiasts every year. Making a definitive list of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world is subjective, but the ones here are certainly strong contenders.
14 Cities That Must Have Been Named on a Dare
Ever come across a town named Odd or considered a vacation to a place called Why? Fancy a leisurely stroll in Dull or perhaps a detour to Nowhere? As surprising as it may sound, these towns actually exist and their peculiar names are sure to amuse… or perplex. If you’re a fan of humorous quirks and obscure trivia, then you’ll definitely be entertained by some of the globe’s most eccentrically named locations.
Best Gas Stations in America Worth Stopping For
Gas stations are typically nothing more than mere pit stops during long journeys, serving the functional purpose of refueling vehicles. However, there are some exceptional gas stations across America that go beyond the ordinary, offering unique experiences and amenities that make them destinations in their own right!
10 Things Americans Need to Avoid Doing in Europe
We get it. Setting off to a new place always stirs up a mix of excitement and nerves. There’s the thrill of discovering a new place, but there’s also the reality of being somewhere completely foreign. You’re surrounded by different languages, customs, and ways of life.
Demi Michele is a seasoned traveler, turned freelance writer. Having explored most states and ventured internationally, her love for outdoor cafes, new cuisines, and cultural immersion shines through her wide range of articles. Based in Texas with her family and two Scottish Terriers, Demi turns her adventures into captivating travel narratives to share with readers.