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Supersized Natural Disasters

some typos have been identified and fixed since original posting, thank you -doc

      [NOTE: This is simply an overview and quick evaluation of various disasters in the Desk style, it is not an exhaustive treatment in any way, shape, or form. It is in no way indicative of actual risk to a particular location as obviously Seattle has far more to worry about from Mt. Rainier from earthquakes and volcanism than it ever will from a tropical storm. Readers are encouraged to use this brief as a checklist and background material as they plan for their own family's safety in our ever more dangerous world. Thank You
    Dr. Leftover
    your disaster authority ]

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      Gargantuan calamities. Mega catastrophes. Cataclysmic natural events.
      Tsunamis that dwarf the one that occurred in December of 2004 in the Indian Ocean.
      Titanic earthquakes that alter the geography of an entire region, sinking cities and raising mountains.
      Massive volcanic eruptions that bring into play the term "super volcano".
      Asteroid impacts along the lines of the 'dinosaur killer'.

      Call them what you will, they are usually seen as late night movies on cable channels, or maybe as panic inducing "It Could Happen...." specials on news and weather shows.
      'Disaster flicks' were all the rage several years ago. Killer bees and burning buildings, sharks and mutated bears and sinking ships and all the rest competed for screen time. All it took was a director that had a flare for the worst case scenario and a pretty actress that screamed well, add the latest and greatest way to kill off a city and mix well in front of the camera.
      Stay up all night at a second job with a TV that seems only able to get 'Insomniac Theater' or Spanish language cooking shows and you soon get to know the genre well.

      And now let's ask the question.

      "Which of the more popular ways to do us in is most likely?"

      Well, Mutant Bears aside, with most of these things, it isn't a case of "IF" but "WHEN". And remember we said... 'with most of these things'. Some, at least as presented in the movies, simply are NOT within the realm of realistic possibility.
      Anyway, moving on.
      We'll go through the list and take a look, without commercials for hair replacement or exercise machines or calls to "1-800-hottsi-mama", and see what has happened and when it happened, and if possible, how likely it is to happen in the next hundred years or so. With the others we'll take a look at why the movie version can't really happen, but we'll also look at what could... like with the killer bees.
      Since everybody is all breathless about Global Warming, we'll save that for last.
      First: Asteroids, Comets and Meteors (oh my!)

SPACE rocks!
The Movies:
      According to Hollywood a massive space rock already has its sights set on landing on Yankee Stadium during next year's World Series.
      Maybe a huge chunk of a failed planet is going to make a really big splash in the North Sea and swamp London under a massive wave of green water.
      There is even the idea that something slightly bigger is going to knock the Moon out of Earth orbit, which will ruin our day in ways we can't even imagine.

What has happened:
      It is now generally accepted that gargantuan impacts have happened on Earth. That the effects of those strikes were felt around the world for years.
      One or more such hits took out the dinosaurs. Others have left a bull's eye in Eastern Canada (the Manicouagan lake area), and fields of marks in Bavaria like Lake Tuttensee.
      What is the largest impact crater on the planet? Well, that depends on who you ask. The Desk has always thought the Venezuela Basin in the Caribbean Sea looks like one, but nobody else does. Most researchers agree that the Vredefort structure in South Africa is the largest ever discovered and perhaps the oldest as well. However, other sites are still being investigated including promising sites in remote areas of Asia.
      This is all considering that until the 1920's serious scientists dismissed all ideas that the gods threw rocks at the Earth that actually hit the ground and left marks you could see the next day, or the well into the next millennium. Geologists had labeled Meteor Crater in Arizona as a volcanic fluke and simply ignored other sites. So on the scale of things, the science of locating and understanding impacts is one of the youngest of the hard sciences.

When it happens:
      Well. Really Big Ones happen on the order of every few thousand years. But....
      There is no way to predict, at this point, when anything larger than a microwave oven is going to come through the clouds and ruin your day. Phenomena such as the Perseid Meteor shower in August of every year are very predictable and sometimes quite spectacular. However, the tiny (sand grain sized) to somewhat larger particles that leave the streaks of light across the sky usually do not reach the ground.
      Objects larger than baseballs do hit the Earth however, and do so with a frequency most people would not believe. It is not an exaggeration to say that every day, somewhere in the world, a meteor of sufficient size to leave a significant atmospheric trail occurs. And it is quite believable that of those, at least a few dozen will reach the surface (land or sea). And of those, some will leave some sort of evidence of their passing, maybe even a hole in the roof of a house.
      But the ones that are the size of the object that left that big dent in the desert in Arizona we mentioned earlier are somewhat more rare. Before it started its fateful plunge to Earth that object would have covered about half a football field (about fifty yards across), and it probably came in somewhere around thirty thousand miles an hour. If you had been sitting in Boston when it happened, you would have felt the shock wave, and possibly heard it, some twenty five hundred miles away.

      Fortunately we CAN track most of these larger objects. The most dangerous Near Earth Asteroids range in size from a hundred yards across or so up to several miles in diameter. Branches of NASA and the European Space Agency are dedicated to identifying and predicting their orbits, especially where they cross our path. With comets, well, new ones crop up from time to time, but it seems that a lot of them have been spotted and tracked, and if we miss one, well. As of right now, if something larger than an obsolete Russian satellite is believed to be on a collision course with Earth, there is nothing we as a species can do about it.

What is likely:
      Things larger than more or less the size of a small car may survive their passage through the atmosphere, depending on local conditions which include their angle of descent, relative speed, composition of the rock, and etc. Smaller objects tend to either burn up in the atmosphere or explode from the intense heat of the passage. And larger objects... well, we'll talk about them in a second.
      Now, even if our passing stone did make it to the surface, most of the Earth is covered with water where unless your incoming rock is the size of a Presidential Candidate's ego, it'll make a little splash and nobody will even know it. The odds of it hitting dry ground are pretty slim.
      OK. Let's say it Did hit land. Most of the Earth's land area is unpopulated. Huge tracts of ground are so sparsely populated the odds that our meteor will come down in the general vicinity of a sizable human settlement are really really long.
      Now, how about the chance that it will land in the middle of something with a population high enough to rate its own fast food franchise? .... to coin a phrase... astronomical.

Predicting it:
      With NASA and other space agencies tracking the rocks we know about and looking for new ones all the time... we hope if It Was Coming To Get Us that we would at least get enough warning not to mail off next month's car payment.
      Space Science is getting better all the time so there is hope.
      Now as for doing something about it with our existing technology, well, that's not so rosy, however, there are those that are serious about it and are making plans to deflect an inbound World Destroyer and doing it with what's on the shelf now. And they just might pull it off.

Odds in the next century:
      Like we said, SOMETHING will come hurtling out of the sky tomorrow, somewhere on (or over) the Earth. That's a given.
      And yeah, like the recent impact in Peru that made a village sick by kicking up some nasty fumes, and the house in New Jersey that had a hole punched in their roof, something like that will probably happen again in a few years.
      But something like a cable network mini-series. No. Not likely.
      Yes, sooner or later a really big rock is going to make a major statement once again on our little corner of the Cosmos....
      But, a major city being wiped out or even Civilization Destroying impact in the next hundred years... Nah. Even as big as they are, Chicago and Hong Kong only cover a tiny portion of the planet.

The Movies:
      Mother Earth vomits molten lava and takes out New York, or Los Angeles, or maybe a good chunk of Wyoming. Airliners fly into clouds of volcanic ash and their engines become choked with melting ash that turns to glass and crash. The food supply is obliterated and the rivers turn to mud.
      And there is nothing us puny humans can do about it.

      Well, yeah. There is nothing we can do about it. The rest remains to be seen.
      Volcanos and even Supervolcanos have erupted before.
      In the US the focus is on Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainer, and the various peaks in Alaska. Elsewhere you have Vesuvius, and Pinatubo, and even Fuji. These eruptions, while they can be locally devastating are not globally significant.
      In the category of Supervolcanos you have Yellowstone, Toba in Indonesia, the Campi Flegrei in Italy, maybe even the earlier Krakatoa explosion in about 500 AD but maybe not the one in the 1880's. These things cook off every so often and spew enough ash and gas into the atmosphere to cause a planet wide ice age.
      Let's look at Yellowstone. Its last eruption, a normal lava producing type, was on the order of 75,000 years ago, but that was a baby compared to the caldera forming explosion two million years ago. That eruption literally blew away a mountain range and left a hole in the ground over forty miles across (the majority of the National Park is actually the caldera). And explosions of that magnitude have been happening over the Yellowstone hotspot on a schedule of every six hundred thousand years for the last sixteen million years leaving a trail of ancient calderas that have wiped out mountains and valleys and redirected rivers across three states, roughly the paths of US Interstates 84 and 86 today. Put it this way, ash from one of the Yellowstone 'super' eruption has been found along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico over a thousand miles away that was in places several inches thick. The environmental impact was felt world wide.

Where are the Super Volcanoes:
      What surprises most people is how many of these things there are, and how big some of them actually were/ are.
      Anywhere from about 250,000 years up to maybe half a billion years ago (depending on which research paper you read) a massive eruption covered most of Siberia in what is now Russia with lava. Something similar happened some time later in India and created the Deccan Traps which cover several thousand square miles with lava up to two thousand feet thick.
      Another ancient eruption covered a good section of India and became silent. The Long Valley in California is an active area whereas the La Garita Caldera in Colorado seems to have erupted only once.
      Others, such as Krakatoa, are more famous for other reasons than being a large, long dead crater.
      Many of these types of volcanoes are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. You could think of Yellowstone and Sumatra as part of its extended reach. New Zealand's Taupo most certainly is, and it has been showing signs of life, just like its cousins, Krakatoa and Yellowstone.
      Given that the Rift Valley in Africa is too ancient to accurately diagnose, giant explosive volcanoes have been identified on every continent except South America and possibly Antarctica.

      As we mentioned, Yellowstone pops about every 600,000 years, give or take a week or two, and is actually overdue.
      The Siberian and Deccan Traps erupted once and appear to be done, that they just so happen to coincide with major extinction events (the Permian and Cretaceous) is something not to be taken lightly.
      Some, like the various Indonesian supervolcanoes appear to erupt when they want to.
      Fortunately for us puny humans, most really big volcanoes that are still active are in fairly remote areas.
      Most. But not all.
      The Campi Flegrei or Phlegraean Fields occupy an eight mile wide volcanic caldera just a few miles from Naples, Italy. The area is both seismically and volcanically active with areas of boiling mud and vents producing volcanic gases. The Napoli area is home to about a million souls.
      The very active Aso/ Aira volcanic complex (actual supervolcanos mixed in with regular volcano volcanos) in Japan once produced a pyroclastic flow that covered almost half the island of Kyushu, which is now home to well over a million and a half people.

Predicting it:
      All in all, some Supervolcanoes are just ticking time bombs under our feet. Ones like Yellowstone or Aso could blow with or without warning at any time.
      But Vulcanology is a growing science. We are learning more all the time about the inner workings of things like Magma Plumes and what an Earthquake over there says about a volcano over here and so on.
      To the average person, the regular volcano in the next county is far more dangerous than any of the 'super' variety. Some just plain old volcanoes erupt with a bang spewing forth pyroclastic clouds that can incinerate a village so suddenly some people are caught still sitting at the dinner table. For evidence, we'll go dig around Pompeii and Herculaneum.
      But. There is reasonable hope that by tracking our next category (Earthquakes) scientists will be able to see something coming and issue a warning in time for meaningful evacuations to take place. However, there is evidence that some of these things, like Krakatoa erupt explosively with little warning that two thirds of the island is about to vanish in a puff of smoke and steam.

The Movies:
      The Big One hits, Los Angeles slides into the ocean while actresses in tight sweaters run down the crumbling streets screaming.

      The Big One will hit and actresses in LA will scream, however, it is really hard to run down a heaving street in high heels.
      As to whether the city will slide into the ocean remains to be seen.
      It WILL happen. Eventually.

      Are there more earthquakes now than there have ever been and therefore they are a sign of the end of the world?
      As we shall see shortly, the detection and recording equipment now used are much more sensitive and accurate than have ever been used before. And with instantaneous world wide news available whenever anything happens anywhere, it just seems like there are more earthquakes than ever before.

When it happens.
      The fact of the matter is that the ground under some of the largest cities on Earth has been and is seismically active. LA, Anchorage, and Seattle in the US; Lisbon, Portugal; Tokyo, Japan; Cairo, Egypt; Lima, Peru; and Mexico City have all had large earthquakes in historic times that did major damage, and in some cases caused tremendous loss of life and property. Southern Italy has been jolted many times in the last hundred years by earthquakes that have killed hundreds of thousands of people, including the largest recorded Earthquake to have ever struck Europe in 1908 which killed over two hundred thousand people in Messina, Sicily and the mainland of the toe of Italy.
      All face an uncertain future as they all know that it could happen again, and in some cases the warning signs that it will happen again sooner rather than later are very apparent. Some faults become dangerous when they have grown too quite for a long period of time, the best known of these is the San Andreas in California. If it is quiet that means that it has 'locked' and tension (energy) is building up and will likely be released in one huge burst. Others lay quiet for a time, then begin a period of increasing activity that ends in a powerful event. The Scandinavian area is an example of this type of fault system.

      Other areas, such as the New Madrid fault in the US are quieter by comparison, but could break at any time and cause terrible damage. The largest quake experienced during the historic period in North America outside of Alaska happened along the New Madrid fault in 1812, it is now estimated to have been in excess of 8.0 on the Richter Scale.
      Sometimes earthquakes happen in areas not usually thought of as a region prone to such a thing.
      For instance, in 1737 an Earthquake with a projected magnitude of about 5.0 occurred within today's New York City. If it were to happen today the damage and loss of life could well be catastrophic, at the time, it toppled a few chimneys. Another occurred offshore in the 1880's.
      In San Francisco building codes have been in place for many years to minimize damage from moderate shaking of the ground. Not so in NYC.

Predicting disaster:
      Here too, science is advancing. And it is terrible to say it, but it is true, the misfortune of thousands leads to the advances that may save millions. Every time an earthquake hits a local area it is studied by Universities worldwide.
      Some say changes in the harmonics of the Earth (the naturally occurring sounds underground), the local electrical and gravitational fields, even the attitudes of animals give clues that something isn't quite right and things are about to get interesting. If any of these can be proven to be a reliable indicator that a major tremor is imminent many lives could be saved.
      But you don't need a PhD in geology to know that Juneau is going to experience another major event someday. Anybody that spent more than a few days in Kobe, Japan, has felt the ground move. Logic dictates that if Charleston, South Carolina had a major, magnitude 7.0, earthquake in 1886, it could have another at some point, and it might be a good idea to be ready.

And The Odds for the next....
      ... week.
      Given the current monitoring network that can detect and locate and measure the movement of the ground from coal bumps in old mines (pillars left in a mine to support the roof that give way to cause what is essentially a man made tremor) to full scale earthquakes that level cities, Something Somewhere will Shake next week. That is a given. Alaska has an average of one or two magnitude 3 or greater earthquakes A Day! Compare that to California that only has three or four over 3.0 a week. If you do all that shaking, it takes a good sized one to even get noticed.
      But the odds of anything that would be called A Big One happening next week are not favorable.

      ... year.
      Yeah. Now you're looking at a good chance that a major earthquake will strike and seriously damage a populated area within the next 365 days or so. Of course this includes such unstable (politically as well as geologically) areas such as the area around Pakistan and Iran that have had terrible disasters both from the Earth itself moving coupled with the shoddy and dangerous construction techniques that have been used there for ages.
      To bet that a major disaster would not occur within any given calender year is a fool's bet. Which is why predicting earthquakes is a favorite of the phony psychics that litter TV shows and the supermarket tabloids. If they were really prophets, they'd say the earthquake was going to happen in Rome on the Ides of March.

      ... century.
      Without a doubt there will be another massive earthquake that will devastate a large city within the next hundred years. Don't believe it, go back and look at that partial list at the beginning of this section and reconsider. That and a hundred years is a really long time when there seems to be at least a 6.0 earthquake somewhere about once a week.
      As to whether that will be the California Big One is something best left to the prophets.

Waving Good Bye
The Movies:
      A cruise ship at sea encounters an unexplained wave that turns the ship over resulting in much adventure and soul searching by the heroic survivors.

      A sleepy coastal town is warned by an heroic scientist that an otherwise mundane undersea event has resulted in a tsunami that is going to interrupt the high school homecoming dance.

The Facts:
      Rogue (freak) waves in the deep ocean, or even on the Great Lakes were denied by scientists until rather recently. They were thought to be tales of the sea told by old salts to terrorize landlubbers. According to the various theories, an open ocean wave in excess of 30 meters should only happen once in a thousand years.
      During World War 2 the Queen Mary was being used as a troop ship when it was struck broadside by a nearly 100 foot tall wave that nearly capsized the ship.
      In 1977 an engineer on a tanker took an image from the bridge of the ship that was looking UP at a giant wave in the Pacific.
      Finally the waves and the measuring equipment were in the same place at the same time when in 1995 a sixty foot wave was measured in the North Sea by recording equipment.
      Later a British research vessel encountered a wave that was the largest open ocean wave ever measured by scientific instruments of over 29 meters from trough to crest.
      In 2005 the cruise ship Norwegian Dawn was damaged by a wave that broke in the windows of staterooms 10 decks above the water line.
      One working theory to explain the sinking of the freighter the Edmund Fitzgerald on the open waters of Lake Superior in 1975 is that a wave large enough to break open the hatch covers and swamp the ship with tons of water washed over the sides of the vessel.
      So much for that pet thousand year theory.

      Tsunamis (still incorrectly called 'tidal waves' in some quarters ahem, BBC) may in fact be rarer than their 'blue water' cousins.
      Most tsunamis are caused by some undersea incident like an earthquake, volcanic eruption or landslide. In any case, an enormous amount of water is displaced and the wave travels out into the open ocean or sometimes toward the nearby land mass that caused the event, or maybe even both.
      In the Atlantic, officials of coastal areas that face the Canary Islands keep careful track of the island of La Palma and its volcano and the crack that runs nearly the length of the island. The reason they are watching is that any significant seismic event might trigger one of the largest landslides ever, a mass about forty miles long and a couple of miles wide by however thick, into the Ocean. The slide could well trigger a massive tsunami up to three hundred feet tall and that might travel across the ocean at up to five hundred miles an hour. If such a thing did happen the wave could impact the coast of Florida in eight hours and still be up to a hundred feet from trough to crest.
      Great seismic disturbances happen quite often in the Pacific, yet tsunamis of any size are very rare. The conditions must be absolutely perfect for the event to generate a killer wave, everything from barometric pressure to lateral displacement must coincide. Fortunately for coastal cities, those conditions seldom exist. Truly this is a case of a butterfly flapping in a garden in Tokyo causing a tornado in Kansas.

      Unlike a rogue wave, ships in the Atlantic may not even mark the tsunami's passing as happened in 1896 when a tsunami passed under an offshore fishing fleet without notice but wiped out the fishermen's home port killing 20,000 residents.
      With deep water rogue waves a ship may never know what hit them, yet there is little evidence of such a monster striking an oceanside town.

How often do they happen?
      Well, we've already sunk the 'one in a thousand years' theory. Now we'll bury it in concrete.
      Over a period of three weeks a European Space Agency satellite recorded radar images that detected 10 separate waves, each over twenty five meters in height over the normal activity in the area.
      It was during that same period that two different commercial vessels encountered and were damaged by large open water waves.
      Not bad for something that oceanographic scientists and other 'experts' denied the existence of.

Will your next cruise be 'washed out'?
      Even given the frequency of large waves that has been observed in the open ocean, you are still safer on a cruise ship than you are in your car driving to the dock to catch the boat.

Will your next beach holiday be 'washed away'?
      See above answer and change out "beach blanket" for "cruise ship".

Killer... critters
The Movies.
      Ravenously aggressive, but otherwise normal, insects, rats, gators, snakes, birds, or sharks invade a more or less tranquil city and seriously annoy the populace being almost unstoppable.

      Man's filth seriously annoys one or several less normal animals that then become ravenously aggressive and all but unstoppable as they invade a tranquil city of polluters.

The Reality:
      Yes there are fire ants, Africanized honeybees, poisonous snakes, alligators, and even the tiny but absolutely deadly Irukandji jellyfish (a critter the size of a thimble that can kill in a matter of hours) around us that may or may not care that we are even alive, but that can and will make our lives miserable, if they don't simply kill us outright.
      However, most of the time, with certain notable exceptions such as lions and certain sharks, they do NOT routinely hunt people for food.
      Also, most animals, with certain notable exceptions such as various great apes, hippos, and dolphins, do not kill unless forced to or for pleasure.
      Also, most animals, with certain notable exceptions such as elephants and perhaps whales, do not kill for revenge.

      Did somebody's sense that all of nature is gentle and kind and everything lives in peace and harmony with everything else shatter?
      Oh well.
      That's right. Nothing in the list of exceptions is made up. There are a couple of links below and you may drop the term of your choice into the nearest search engine to verify the rest at your leisure.

      Swarms of killer jellyfish HAVE closed beaches in Australia. The tiny box jellies, some almost microscopic in size and all but invisible in the water, can and have killed an otherwise healthy adult in a matter of hours. The pain of their stings is excruciating and there is no known working antidote.
      Do the Irukandji actually Hunt people? Well, that would imply some sort of advanced thought process, there is still discussion as to whether or not the things have a functional nervous system, let alone the ability to strategically plan an attack.
      Lions on the other hand....

      In 1898 in eastern Africa about forty people were killed in a 'reign of terror' by at least two large male lions. Eventually the lions were themselves killed. Now it is believed that the lions had been stricken by either bad teeth or were suffering from a decline in their normal prey due to disease. At the time though the lions exhibited great skill and cunning in overcoming fences and avoiding night watchmen in their stalking of their prey.

What is Likely:
      Man is probably always going to be a 'victim' in regards to the 'power of nature'. Except in this case, unlike those cases above, we are now dealing with other living things instead of a rock from space or a giant wave. Whatever else a jellyfish may or may not be, it is alive.
      Humans who are out of their element- as those who were building the wilderness railroad in Kenya or swimming in the ocean in Australia or in the cage with an elephant that remembers you from a long time ago- are usually ill prepared to fend for themselves. Sometimes this is through ignorance, but all too often it is also through arrogance.
      Basic preparation and awareness can go far to prevent some of these tragedies.

      But again, what can you do to prevent a swarm of killer bees from descending on your house one summer afternoon? Well, nothing, but once you see them Don't run outside and start swatting at them. The best thing to do is to shut the windows and call the fire department- bees cannot fly while wet.

      Most people living in something that can loosely be called civilization are far more likely to be faced with a rabid cat than with a prowling pack of wolves and.....
      "wait a minute... rabid cat?" Somebody just said.
      Yes. Rabid Cat.

Nationwide, however, cats accounted for 54 percent of domestic animals found with rabies in 2005, compared with dogs at 16 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More cows were discovered with rabies than dogs that year.,2933,296206,00.html

      back to the point
      .... and when faced with something like that (the rabid cat), something unusual and dangerous, something they may have never seen before, are they more likely to take meaningful and constructive action, or to panic and probably make things even worse.

      The horror movies have cashed their checks on beautiful women in tight sweaters who scream and shake their head when faced with... well, whatever. It could be a werewolf, a mouse, a giant snake, even a mad scientist bent on cross breeding a werewolf and a mouse as food for his giant snake. Instead of throwing furniture at whatever menace is approaching her, she screams.
      Well, other than giving whatever it is a headache and making for a great close up shot of her bright red lipstick and false eyelashes, screaming probably isn't going to help.

      A lot of people who are NOT actors in horror movies behave in about the same way.
      They scream, cry, or even freeze and not do anything at all. Even a good scream will let the others around them know that something is going on so somebody else can throw the furniture, or run, but just standing there watching isn't a good plan.
      This applies to both the sick cat and crime.
      How many times have you seen interviews with people who stood around during a crime and watched and did not get involved to stop it. Many not even calling 911. Instead they call their sister to tell her what was going on.
      It is that type of person, the ones who scream or stare but not act, who will be the first few victims of the fire ants. The one with the bug spray or, in case of a large number of really mean ants a can of kerosene, are probably not going to go down without a fight.

      Perhaps the Evil Thing From The Sewer only eats stupid people.

      And as for mutant bears and giant snakes.... Well, we'll leave them for the Mystery Series.
      For now in short, any mutation as normally displayed in the movies is likely to be fatal to the infant creature in short order, and furthermore- mutations to an ADULT creature do not change whatever it is into something else, and if the chemical or radiometric agent tried to do so, it would kill it.

Odds are...
      Face it, the odds that 'critters' are going to wipe out humanity are very long.
      If you live in Texas you've already had your fill of news about fire ants and killer bees. But they have not wiped out Houston.
      Nasty jellyfish have been found in the waters around South Africa and possibly even Florida. However, beaches are still popular vacation destinations.
      If a pack of wolves does get loose inside a major city, they have more to worry about from the taxi drivers than they do professional wolf hunters.
      OK, what are the odds that a Biblical Plague of... Nutria or something... are going to invade your city and kill off everybody?

"Super Flu"
The movies:
      An infectious agent spreads like wildfire after: being released from a lab, coming to Earth on a space rock (see link in Meteor section below) or aboard a ship, being discovered in some dark jungle somewhere. The result is that almost everybody, except the star of course, dies.

The Real World:
      This is the other side of the category above. Instead of ants and sharks we're dealing with microbes.
      Every once in awhile you'll see an article about some new 'scourge of mankind' that is going to wipe everybody out. Last time around it was the bird flu or West Nile. Several years ago it was AIDS, before that it was leprosy, or the Black Death. Some social do-gooders now say it is obesity. In any case, Humanity as a species survived everything from the Plague to 'skunky beer' and it is quite likely that we shall survive the next one too.

Where do they come from?
      There are infectious agents in your body right now that if removed from... your gut, your sinuses, your skin, wherever they call home... and transplanted elsewhere in your body would cause you to have a really bad weekend, IF you survived at all.
      There are worse and nastier all around you. But unless you are already sick, say with a 'compromised immune system', you're no worse for the wear.

      Truth be told, the more sterile your overall environment, the more likely it is you will get sick with something when you move just outside your normal routine. Just as the 'hand sanitizer' fad not long ago did nothing to decrease the overall infection rates from the common cold. So while it is a good idea to rinse off the cutting board after you slice up a chicken, you don't need to power wash the entire kitchen down with bleach and boiling water. Normal immunizations and a few basic precautions can go a long way to minimize the risk of illness. Common Sense must still have a place in our lives.
      Of course common sense, and truth for that matter, have no place in popular media, its advertising, or hand wringing health reports by earnest but misguided reporters.
      So what does all that have to do with an avian flu outbreak?
      Common sense may come into play.

The Odds
      Yes there will be a flu pandemic, well, if not the flu, something else. Once again, that would be a fool's bet to wager against it. Maybe there will be an outbreak of the creeping toenail fungus.
      Whatever it is, the TV news will blow it way out of proportion, unless it is actually serious, then they'll squash it to 'prevent panic'.
      Will it wipe out a large percentage of Nashville or some other major city?
      No. Not likely.

The Next Two involve actions by people against other people. One is Unintentional (we hope) and perhaps even accidental, the other is not, but the outcomes are remarkably similar.

"Oh Shoot!"
The Movies:
      Carelessness and complacency by a major industrial conglomerate results in a massive chemical leak that wipes out an entire village.

The Reality:
      Carelessness and complacency by a major industrial conglomerate results in a massive chemical leak that wipes out an entire village.

      Yeah. That's pretty much what happened.
      In 1984 a methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India killed nearly four thousand people and sickened or injured many thousands of others. Some are still incapacitated over twenty years later from their exposure to the chemical.

      Industrial accidents happen....
      "Can you say Chernobyl boys and girls?"
      .... and most of the time those who are direct victims of it had no clue things were as bad as they really were before it happens.

      For those too young to remember....
      Chernobyl was the nuclear power plant in the Ukraine in the then USSR that had a really bad day in April of 1986.
      In fact, it remains the worse nuclear accident in history. While only fifty people died as as direct result of the accident, four thousand have been diagnosed with illness attributable to the accident with over six million people exposed to significant amounts of radiation.
      However, the so called 'dead zone' that covers about half the country is mostly urban legend, although an area of 'exclusion' remains in place about twenty miles around the plant.

The Likelihood of:
      You being vaporized by an "oh shoot".
      For starters, that depends on how close you live to a major industrial complex, mountain of mine tailings, large LPG storage facility, etc. If you are on a farm in Kansas twenty miles from anything larger than a spinning wheel repair shop, you may be OK.
      But then again, grain elevators have been known to have some really spectacular dust explosions.

The Reality:
      There are those who are so full of irrational hatred and see no problem with killing noncombatants (women and children and old people) by the thousands.
      They don't have second thoughts about using whatever means are available to accomplish their ends.
      Their leaders sit in their secure hiding places and send others to do their dirty work while promising them the first seat in heaven, something that is not theirs to promise.

The Media:
      According to some stuffed shirts and TV talking heads, the Western Powers, and especially the Presidency of George W. Bush are to blame, for all the ills in the world. Meanwhile they ignore their own history and previous articles such as the attacks on the African Embassies in 1998 and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, both during the administration of President Clinton.
      Exactly who the US president is Does Not Matter to the extremists who carry out these actions.

      Now don't misunderstand the point here.
      Not ALL terrorists are Muslims. Remember the IRA? The Irish Republican Army, who carried out bombings in London and other places in the UK?
      Then there were the partisan Puerto Rican forces who even launched an armed attack and opened fire inside the US Capitol Building in 1954 wounding several members of Congress less than five years after they had made a violent attempt to kill President Truman.
      Then there are assorted groups in India, and the various African tribal factions, and so on and so forth.
      HOWEVER they all have one thing in common. They Will kill innocents to make their point.

Your chances:
      Again, some places are better targets than others.
      If your country is still involved in sectional violence that goes back a few centuries then you may end up in the line of fire. And, if your city is being painted as the source of all evil on Earth by the leader of an extremist religious faction, then your odds go up as well.

AND NOW!!!! the biggest disaster of all....

Global... something
The 'Fury' of the Storm
The Movies:
      A set of absolutely perfect conditions, circumstances, bad luck, pollution, whatever combine to create a massively powerful storm. The resulting blizzard, typhoon, tornado, rainstorm, etc, wipes out the town. All except for the star of course.

The Hype:
      Some claim that due to global warming all weather extremes will be greater. A few even seem eager to see another severe storm, and can barely contain their glee when one materializes.

The Reality:
      There is no static NORMAL global climate on this planet. There never has been.

      Weather changes.
      Climate changes.
      Sea levels, storm cycles, desert boundaries, forests, river channels... Change.
      There were once oak trees and meadows in Greenland, hence the name.
      Ice once covered much of central Europe, before that, there was a tropical sea where the Black Forest is today.
      Parts of what was forest is now desert in Africa, and evidence supports the opposite as well.
      Alaskan glaciers have been retreating since before they were discovered BEFORE the Industrial Revolution.
      Even the most rabid ecologists admit that the Earth was "Warmer and Wetter" when the dinosaurs were around.
      You don't have to go back very far to see where some of these same 'experts' were predicting an impending Ice Age due to some of the same factors they say are now overheating us.

      We do not understand enough about the way the climate works to successfully predict where a hurricane will go when it is right in front of us let alone what the climate will be like in a hundred years.
      The Solar Cycle, the Water Cycle, and all the other large scale systems have more to do with what will happen to the coastline of Barbados than how many SUVs are bought in Denver.
      Now having said all that, we'll say this: It just makes COMMON SENSE to save the resources we can and to minimize the pollution we can. Once again, nobody is really in favor of cutting down an entire rain forest, but they also do not enjoy paying four dollars a gallon for gas.

FROM: R. Timothy Patterson, professor and director of the Ottawa-Carleton Geoscience Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, Carleton University, Canada.
Our finding of a direct correlation between variations in the brightness of the sun and earthly climate indicators (called "proxies") is not unique. Hundreds of other studies, using proxies from tree rings in Russia's Kola Peninsula to water levels of the Nile, show exactly the same thing: The sun appears to drive climate change.

See Desk Article UPDATE linked below

And now- "Stormy Weather"

      Major storms happen. They have always happened. One of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the US mainland hit Galveston, Texas in September of 1900 killing 6000 people and leveling the city. Long before Mr. Gore was even born.
      Are there more storms now than ever before as some weather 'experts' claim?
      The answer is NO. Not at all. We are simply better at TRACKING them than ever before.
      During Hurricane Season any halfway meaningful thunderstorm over the open ocean is scanned and photographed and flown into within an inch of its life and if it acts like its sustained wind speed is ever going to get above a good breeze it is watched for the duration. see link below
      In 1900, how many storms were never even noticed?

      Something else.
      Tropical Cyclones, tornadoes, dust storms, and everything else that comes by as we continue living on this planet do not have emotions. Hurricane Beauvadene has no 'fury'. It may be Raging, but it is not acting out of emotion.
      To say it does once in the lead in to a news report is one thing. To continually talk about the storm as if she were human and is furious about what humans have done to her ocean is begging the point.
      And so as to not do that, we'll leave it right there.

The Odds of SOMETHING Happening.

      As we said.... Climate CHANGES.
      It will likely get a bit warmer, or cooler, as Mother Nature sees fit.
      And there is nothing the former Vice President or anybody else can do about it.


Resources and Links

Outside links will open in new window.
All links were working as of Columbus Weekend 2007

NOTE: The Desk no longer considers Wikipedia a reliable source due to internal cliques and politics in the organization.
For more information, drop the topic in a good NON-COMMERCIAL search engine, like and see what comes back.

Space Rocks:
Manicouagan crater, Canada

Meteor Crater, Arizona

Meteor hits Roof in NJ

Meteor sickens village

Volcanos and friends:
Siberian Traps, supervolcano

This one erupted while this article was in production!

Earth Shaking stuff:
Alaska Recent seismic activity

USGS world wide earthquake activity

Freak waves spotted from space BBC

Scientific abstract on the waves

Canary Island article

The Critter Collection:
Rabid Cats story

Hungry Lions

Killer Sharks at

Rampaging Apes

Mean Bees

Site name says it all:

Article about Hand Sanitizers: Scientific American

For Humans By Humans The site dedicated to the event.

International Atomic Energy Agency page about Chernobyl.

"rush to name storms costing you money"


The Desk's Climate Change Article and UPDATE with extensive links on the subject following the article.

The Index of the Desk's Non Fiction and Mystery Series Articles

To the main page

[NOTE: This article is an overview of a collection of 'worst case' scenarios and assorted other events, it is in NO WAY an exhaustive treatment of the subject. The Desk is not affiliated with any of the above outside sites or entities. Mention of a particular document or article is not to be taken as an endorsement by or of the Desk. No infringement or disrespect is intended or is to be assumed. thank you ]