Disaster, plague, and destruction are on everyone’s mind these days. Not only is COVID-19 causing a big, fat mess, but there are also more troubles on the horizon. Here are a few situations that could make this emergency seem like a walk in the park in comparison.
New York’s Bigger-Than-Sandy Hurricane
New York has its muggings and terrible celebrity chef restaurants. Most of us believed NYC could not possibly have a hurricane roll through. Hurricanes Irene and Sandy loudly corrected us. Flooded subways, collapsed buildings, and billions of dollars in damage were the results. What is (eventually) coming is much worse.
These hurricanes hit as Category 1 storms, the weakest on the 5-point scale, which is to say that it could have been much worse.
In fact, New York City has a pretty good chance of being hit by a Category 3 Hurricane every decade. A Category 3 hurricane can result in demolished houses, damaged skyscrapers, and destroyed infrastructure. Imagine JFK airport under 19 feet of water. Scientists say it can happen.
The unique geography of New York, Northeast New Jersey, and Western Long Island forms a bottleneck. This means an intense storm has a decent chance of a direct hit. Actually, New York’s near future could see a Category 5 hurricane – a dozen times worse than a Category 3.
The Solution: New York City is amazingly aware of this possibility. If a Category 4 hurricane rolls through, authorities have calculated it would do about $500 billion worth of foreseeable damage. That’s four times as much as Hurricane Katrina. Even a Category 2 would reduce the subway system to an aquarium in 40 minutes. Penn and Grand Central Stations would flood. Three of the five N.Y. boroughs would see a mini-tsunami in the form of a 15-foot wall of water. So the best action plan for this storm is to evacuate to Kalamazoo a year ahead of time.
Amsterdam Could also Drown
The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam. It is a city with hundreds of years of history, wonderful art museums, bars, and other beautiful sights. It is also a potential snack for the ocean.
Most of the Netherlands resides below sea level. Just about any natural calamity will give Amsterdam a face-full of the ocean if just one of the various, intricate failsafe barriers and dams surrounding the country goes down. The city’s highest point is seven feet above sea level. The lowest point of the Netherlands is minus 23 feet. So the whole country is at constant risk of being swallowed.
Amsterdam has been fighting water for centuries, and the authorities have actually set up the elaborate not-getting-drowned network that is keeping them safe. However, they suck at keeping the network up to date. Only 50 percent of the defenses are deemed “somewhat capable” of handling a flood. The latest hazardous flood defense failure was only in 2010. Many experts wonder if a tiny hairline crack could cause some dams to collapse.
The defenses are actually so leaky, the costs of maintaining and improving them add up to around one billion euros a year once you factor in rising sea levels. If there is a sudden sea-level rise, their rivers can also cause major damage.
The Solution: Truthfully, not much. Yes, they have a multibillion-dollar plan to fortify the country’s defenses, but even the designers know planning centuries in the future is futile.
To their credit, the country has been flooded dozens and dozens of times, including a great 1953 flood that turned Amsterdam into a copy of Venice. So they’ve dealt with this before.
Seattle’s Potential Mud-Flood
The Seattle area is earthquake-prone, and countless comedians have made jokes about the rain that falls a minimum of 400 days a year. But there’s a bigger threat that no one would joke about.
Mount Rainier is just to the north. This happens to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes on Earth. But the true killer would be a lahar – in plain language, a giant flow of hot mud, water, and trees. It would be the consistency of wet cement and would roll downhill at nearly 60mph.
It’s not only fast, but it’s also huge. A lahar can be up to 600 feet high. Around 5,000 years ago, a giant lahar about that size called the Osceola Mudflow filled a part of Puget Sound. In a matter of hours, a pristine waterway became 200 square miles of new land. The disastrous 1985 Nevado del Ruiz lahar killed 25,000 people in Colombia, and that one had only 2.5 percent of the volume of the Osceola Mudflow.
The solution: A lahar detection system was installed in 1998. However, but it is loose and incomprehensive. Worse, they are nearly impossible to detect. A volcanic eruption is not required. A sector collapse or magma leakage could be sufficient. Material damages alone could be as high as $13 billion. A non-volcanic lahar could spread from one to several of the six Mount Rainer lahar systems, multiplying the destruction.
Wellington, New Zealand is Hit by Everything
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand and home to over 400,000 people. The city seems to find every way imaginable for the people to die by natural disasters.
Wellington sits on an island. This makes water an obvious threat. A major tsunami last hit Wellington in 1946 – it was a water wall you could hear 15 miles away. It’s not common to go 100 years with no tsunami, so they’re about due for the next one. Authorities believe a 115-foot tsunami is possible. The flood of 1984 left destruction from which some have not recovered, so this is particularly troubling.
Beyond water, Wellington is located right by a gigantic fault line. The resulting earthquakes cause damage themselves, not to mention triggering those huge tsunamis. There are volcanoes to the north that throw ash and soot in the city every now and then.
The Solution: Evacuation is usually the only thing they can do though sadly, that’s not a possibility for many Wellingtonians. Just a medium-sized tsunami show would eliminate the city’s airport, marina, and local stadium (most citizens would be sheltering in the stadiums). Downtown would become Sea World. Also, most of the evacuation zones are in the worst risk areas, placing roughly half the population in immediate danger when everything truly goes crazy.