As we like to constantly remind everyone, Mother Nature seems to have it out for us. Earthquakes in California and Japan, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico, tornadoes in the Midwest and everywhere a trailer park can be found -- it's as if nature binge-watched every Roland Emmerich flick and decided to show that poser how it's really done. And while natural disasters like those tend to come in waves (literally if it's a tsunami), scientists say many are way overdue for disastrous new sequels. For example ...
A bit north of the Bay Area is the start of the Pacific Northwest, home to major cities like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and that other Vancouver no one likes. At first glance, there doesn't seem to be much wrong here. But don't let all the rain, VooDoo Doughnuts, and their unhealthy obsession with soccer fool you; they're about to be screwed big time.
That cheerful orange stripe is known as the Cascadia Subduction zone. It's a fault line, where one part of the Earth enters the other. Most of the time, this happens smoothly, as if Barry White were playing in the background. But every once in a while, our douche of a planet likes to get rough and America rejects the incoming plate. This is called a full-margin rupture, and it's as devastating as it sounds. The last time that happened was in 1700, and the earthquake was so big that it caused a giant tsunami that destroyed a bunch of coastal Japan across the ocean.
The Pacific Northwest is all but due for one of these, and it couldn't be more terrifying. When the next one happens, at roughly around a 9.0 (re: very bad) on the Richter scale, cities like Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland are in for what's been described as the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. FEMA projects 13,000 dying, one million homeless, and 2.5 million needing food. Or roughly five to six Katrinas. And that's not even counting Canada.
The current chances of a big earthquake happening there are one in three, while a giant, apocalyptic earthquake is at ten to one. Some good odds, assuming you're a complete psycho who bets on human misery.
As we've previously told you, San Francisco is way overdue for a major earthquake. FEMA and geologists alike are expecting it any day now. That may sound like a vain promise a la "You'll never regret investing in my vegan deli!" but the science checks out. San Francisco should be in ruins right about now.
It all comes down to something called the Hayward Fault. Going back to the first Hayward earthquake recorded, from 1315, it's been found that the average time between big shakeups is 140 years. Since the last big Hayward rumble was in 1868, that means we're eight years overdue for new one. Every year that passes means the chance for a gigantic earthquake only increases. It's like having no one winning the lotto for a bigger jackpot the next day -- only instead of seeing the cash increase on a distracting billboard, you see the casualty increase on a depressing spreadsheet.
Thousands of buildings destroyed, rampant looters, no water, thousands dead, and, um, a surprisingly intact subway system are all but a few things that are predicted in the case of such an earthquake. The most conservative reports estimate the damages at $165 billion (which will also be the budget of the inevitable "based on a true story" bullshit movie a few years later).
Currently, an Oakland-wrecking quake in the next 30 years is at 14.4 percent, but that's up from 13.2 percent only seven years before. And it will keep going up. For those of you visiting San Francisco in the near future, be sure to visit the Golden Gate bridge and buy that famous sourdough bread, because it soon may doing its own version of Extreme Home Makeover: Earth Edition.
The American South is known for lots of things. The Allman Brothers. Pound cake. White seersucker suits. Being way behind the curve on numerous social issues. And yes, hurricanes. But as often as hurricanes like to gallivant around in the South, a huge number of Southern cities have avoided being hit by a massive one in many, many decades.
Statistically speaking, this is terrifying.
The odd northern city like Boston fits into this category, but when you pan to the South, a disturbing string of overdue cities becomes apparent. Somehow, the southern Georgia / northern Florida area has beaten the odds 92 times in a row and counting. In some cities, it's actually been more than a century without a significant hurricane touching down. As anyone who has won a roulette game over 100 times and decided to keep playing knows, this is tempting fate.
In places like Tampa, which hasn't been hit by a major hurricane since 1921, this means most of the buildings have never been hurricane-tested, going solely on the belief of "If it survived in the state of Florida for five years without being destroyed, it's built to last." Jacksonville is similar, not being slammed by a hurricane since the 1800s. Most people in these areas don't really know what to do when it does happen. This all spells disaster for the state. So if you absolutely must go there, it can't hurt to look up which old buildings survived the last mega-hurricane -- you'd probably be safer there than in some fancy new condo.
Mumbai, the entertainment capital of India, is much like Los Angeles, but with more cows and somehow even less parking. And, oh yeah, all of those killer floods.
As it turns out, Al Gore's archnemesis Global Warming, alongside lesser-known Captain Planet villains Unchecked Plastic Pollution and Floodplain Destruction, are causing flooding to increase dramatically in Mumbai. By 2080, the city is going to be twice as vulnerable to catastrophic floods, and could be losing billions a year in repairs and rescue. And lives. It's gonna lose a shitload of human lives, too. A 2005 flood alone shut down the entire city, killed over 1,000 people, and destroyed over 14,000 homes. By next century, that's gonna be called "Tuesday."
Even with some measures being taken, time is running out. In a few decades, 11 million people will be at risk for these floods -- or $1.5 trillion, in heartless capitalist terms. And it's not just Mumbai, either -- cities like Chennai are going to have major floods in the next several years, too. Even if Indian cities are competing for the prestigious "City Most Likely To Live Out The Day After Tomorrow" award, if nothing is done soon, there may not be a Bollywood anymore.
Way back in 1811 and 1812, when America was still experiencing odd growth spurts and constantly arguing with its mother, a series of over 1,000 earthquakes rocked the Mississippi River between St. Louis and Memphis. One was so powerful that it caused the river to run backwards for a few hours. Another was felt all the way on the East Coast. The epicenter of the quakes was the town of New Madrid, which might as well have been renamed New New Madrid, because it took years to rebuild it.
Today, the affected cities sit peacefully on the mighty Mississippi -- despite that pesky 40 percent chance that a New-Madrid-level quake could hit in the next few decades.
Unlike California, which has been super-prepared since the last major earthquake hit hard enough to delay the World Series, the New Madrid fault area has been sitting blissfully by. In case the "40 percent" statistic didn't bother you, this should: The New Madrid fault has an impact zone ten times as big as its more famous San Andreas cousin. With the right quake, that potentially means a world in which neither the St. Louis Arch nor Graceland Mansion exist. Like most structures in the area, they simply aren't ready for this type of action.
Citizens from all of the bordering states on the fault are totally unprepared, and the infrastructure is decades overdue for some quakeproofing. Meanwhile, according to a geologist at the University of Memphis, "There's a lot about the New Madrid we don't know ... but what we do know is very concerning." Since that's what every "zealous but ignored" scientist says in the first third of a disaster movie, that means we're currently right about at the part where one of the scientists looks up from their computer, removes their glasses, and says "Oh no" while a Dennis Quaid type looks on nervously.
Space. It was the final frontier. It was the place where no one could hear you scream. And now that we know more about it, it's the void that is trying to murder us in increasingly horrific ways.
One such way is the Kuiper belt. You know, the bunch of cosmic junk we recently decided Pluto belonged to.
See those tiny bits? They all want to kill you. Inside this belt are around 100,000 50-mile-wide spheres of rock ice that are ready to bust out into the inner Solar System to hit some planets -- ours included. NASA tries to keep a solid list of what's coming right at good ol' Earth, but 100,000 at the same time on could be a bit daunting.
Also included in this trail mix of the damned are rogue black holes. Unlike regular black holes, which orbit about and do their own terrifying, super-gravity-pulling thing, these guys can get conked out of alignment and spiral out of control into the cosmos. And if one came our way, we'd only have a few decades to get off the planet, because even the black hole equivalent of a drive-by would completely mess up Earth's orbit. That would either make the weather so wonky that we'd die, or Earth could be ejected out of orbit and sent off into space like that guy in 2001.
But we at least understand those things. Solar flares, not so much. These magnetic Sun ejaculations can happen at any time, for no reason, and cause reams of damage. An 1859 storm took out tons of telegraph lines, a smaller 1989 flare took out power to most of Quebec, and a 2012 storm that barely missed us would have cost trillions in damages around the world. But those are nothing compared to superflares. These babies can go over 20 times a normal flare -- which could destroy the ozone layer and zap us. On the other hand, a lack of solar flares would kill us too; a mere 1-percent decrease in the Sun's power could send us into another ice age ... exactly like the previous 17 of 19 times.
At this point, if all we get is an invasion of dong-shaped monsters, that's the Universe showing mercy.
Evan V. Symon is a PE team member, writer, and interview finder at Cracked.
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