What Is a Natural Disaster for Kids?

A volcanic eruption is an example of a natural disaster.
••• Volcano image by wojciechhajduk from Fotolia.com

Imagine you're swimming on a beautiful summer day at the beach, building a funny-looking snowman in winter, or strolling through the woods on a crisp autumn day. In scenes like these, the natural world is wonderful, beautiful and as enjoyable as can be. But nature can also be terribly harsh. Things like monster storms, volcanoes, major earthquakes, tremendous floods and fires are examples of natural disasters that cause widespread destruction and often turn deadly. Here's an explanation of some natural disasters... for kids!

Natural Disaster Facts: Earthquakes

In 1906, the city of San Francisco in California was almost destroyed. Buildings collapsed, streets split apart and rivers changed course. A huge fire engulfed the city. The culprit was an earthquake that was so large, it was felt in the entire state of California and beyond! In a short essay on this natural disaster, the author wrote that "the totality of destruction" from the San Francisco earthquake "was extraordinary."

This type of natural disaster happens when underground stresses cause two sections of the earth to abruptly move past one another. The sudden motion releases energy. A small earthquake can hardly be felt, but a large earthquake releases so much energy that buildings can tumble as entire cities shake.

An earthquake can strike anywhere in the world, but some areas are much more active than others. California is one of the planet's earthquake hot spots and gets more than 10,000 quakes a year. Most of them are so small that they are only felt by sensitive measuring instruments. But a major quake is always a possibility.

Earthquakes can lead to another type of natural disaster, a huge flood known as a tsunami. The shaking of the earth can lead to a powerful wave in the ocean, which grows very large as it approaches the shore. As if the earthquake itself was not bad enough, a tsunami can lead to major flooding in the same area.

The Big Storms: Hurricanes and Tornadoes

Like earthquakes, storms come in all sizes. We've all been caught outside in a sudden rain storm, when the rain gets heavy and the wind starts blowing. That's one type of storm, and its pretty common. But storms can also grow very large or very powerful or both, and when they do, they become natural disasters.

Hurricanes are large storms that can be the size of an entire state, or even bigger. Hurricane winds are fierce, sometimes blowing more than 100 miles per hour and these storms bring enormous amounts of rain as well. The rain and winds can lead to flooding, which adds to the damage from the wind. Hurricanes begin out in the ocean and are most common in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, but also occur in the Pacific Ocean.

If you've seen "The Wizard of Oz," then you know about tornadoes. These fearsome twisters don't cover huge areas like a hurricane, but their winds can be even more powerful. A 1999 tornado in Oklahoma reached a wind speed of 301 miles per hour, the fastest wind speed ever measured. Storms like these destroy just about everything in their path.

Natural Disasters and Human Beings

We call them "natural" disasters, but the amount of damage and destruction they cause has a lot to do with the habits of human beings. After the San Francisco earthquake, engineers began designing buildings and roads to be more earthquake-resistant. Good building standards means less damage, even when a sizable earthquake hits.

On the other hand, as our population grows, more and more people are at risk along the coasts. People are building homes and workplaces close to the ocean in great numbers. Some people like living by the sea and others find that there is no other place for new construction. As populations increase along the shore, they are in danger from natural disasters like hurricanes and tsunamis that affect coastal areas more than inland parts of the country.

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