20 Worst Natural Disasters in U.S. History

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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 disasters were chosen not only for their sheer scale and impact but also for their historical significance in shaping U.S. policies on disaster preparedness and response. From hurricanes that redefined city infrastructures to fires that changed fire management practices, each event has a unique place in American history. These are the 20 of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

1. Hurricane Andrew

Hurricane Andrew
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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.

2. Dust Bowl

Dust Bowl
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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.

3. Great Natchez Tornado

large tornado destroying
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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.

4. Great Galveston Hurricane

Great Galveston Hurricane
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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.

5. San Francisco Earthquake and Fire

San Francisco Earthquake and Fire
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Small earthquakes are all too common in San Francisco, but on April 18th, 1906, a 7.9-magnitude one ripped through the California city. Damage to gas and water lines afterward caused fires that firefighters couldn’t manage, increasing the death toll.

6. Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy
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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.

7. Winter Storm Uri

Winter Storm Uri
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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.

8. Johnstown Flood

Johnstown Flood
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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.

9. The Peshtigo Fire

The Peshtigo Fire
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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.

10. The Great Chicago Fire

Great Chicago Fire
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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.

11. Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria
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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 20th, 2017 the storm lasted till Oct. 2nd!

12. Pittsburgh Flood

Pittsburgh Flood
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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.

13. Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina
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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.

14. Kilauea Eruption

Kilauea Eruption
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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.

15. North American Heat Wave

North American Heat Wave
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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.

16. The 1899 San Circao Hurricane

San Circao Hurricane
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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.

17. Tupelo Tornado

Tupelo Tornado
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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.

18. Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey 2017
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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.

19. Great Blizzard

Great Blizzard
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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.

20. Mount St Helens Eruption

Mount St Helens Eruption
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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 May 18, 1980. This explosion caused a 5.1-magnitude earthquake and 57 deaths.

Incredible Tales of Survival and the Movies That Brought Them to Life

scene from In the Heart of the Sea
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

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.

Incredible Tales of Survival and the Movies That Brought Them to Life

15 Fascinating Facts About Famous Landmarks Hardly Anyone Knows

man at great wall of china -
Image Credit: Denise Andersen/Shutterstock

There are countless iconic landmarks that dot the globe, each with its own unique story and significance. However, even the most famous of these landmarks harbor secrets and fascinating facts that are often overlooked. These 15 fascinating facts remind us that there’s always more to discover about the world’s most famous landmarks, no matter how well-known they may seem.

Featured Image Credit: Vlad Teodor/Shutterstock

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Robert Sihler is an educator, freelance writer, and rock climbing guide and instructor living with his family in Driftwood, Texas. In his spare time, he enjoys reading fiction, streaming films, completing crossword puzzles, and rock climbing. When he goes on vacation, he likes to visit the mountains of the West and climb remote, obscure peaks that have seen few or no prior ascents.