No matter how technologically advanced humans become, we'll always spend a good portion of our time pathetically flailing at nature and the various disasters it attempts to grind us down with. Which makes it all the more awesome that many have actually chosen to live right on the bulls-eye of mother nature's bazooka practice target. As we all go blithely about our daily lives, just remember ...
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There's no shortage of hazards that can be associated with New York: Muggings, terrorist attacks, and terrible celebrity chef restaurants are all par for the course when it comes to the Big Apple. Yet the most dangerous of them all tends to go unmentioned ... right until it throws a skyscraper at you. Most of us were shocked to find out that New York was in hurricane territory at all, then all of a sudden the city gets sideswiped by Irene and Sandy. They flooded subways, collapsed quite a few buildings and dealt billions in damage. And they were nothing compared to what is (eventually) coming.
wzohaib via ABC News
Like David-Ortiz-gets-elected-mayor bad.
Both of those storms were only Category 1 when they hit, meaning that they were not that powerful -- even though they still tore up plenty of shit in the region, some of which still hasn't been fixed. Which is to say that it could have been much worse. As in, Roland Emmerich worse.
Whoa, whoa, let's not be hasty. Have we forgotten how bad 2012 really was?
In fact, New York City has a pretty good chance of being hit by a category 3 Hurricane this very decade. And the next one. And, in fact, each and every decade. A Category 3 hurricane, in case you were wondering, is defined by the phrase "Devastating damage will occur." We're talking demolished houses, damaged skyscrapers, and destroyed infrastructure, here. We're talking JFK airport under 19 feet of water, according to the people who study this sort of thing.
Because of New York's unique geography (and in case anyone needed an extra reason to dislike New Jersey), Northeast New Jersey and Western Long Island form a bottleneck for hurricanes to pass right into. Essentially, any storm with great intensity has a decent chance of a direct hit. This, incidentally, subjects the city to far worse things than just a "mere" Category 3: New York's near future can very well see a full-on "Oh shit" hurricane of the Category 5 classification. Destruction wise, this storm would be a dozen times worse than a Category 3.
Matthew Bloch via New York Times
Leading us to wonder why it's not a Category 36 hurricane.
So, What Can Be Done?
Luckily, New York City is prepared for pretty much anything. And when we say prepared, we mean they know precisely how screwed they're going to be.
Using a Category 4 hurricane as a sort of average of terror, authorities have calculated that a massive hurricane would do about $500 billion worth of foreseeable damage -- that is, four times as much as Hurricane Katrina managed. Hell, a mere Category 2 would turn the subway into an aquarium in 40 minutes, with Grand Central and Penn Stations flooding as well. There is also the matter of the 15-foot wall of water expected to hit three of the five N.Y. boroughs with all the havoc a mini-tsunami with New York attitude can wreak.
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"HEY- I'm floodin' here."
Bottom line for hurricane survival in New York: When it hits, be in Cleveland. Though it could be worse...
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Amsterdam is the capital of Netherlands, and the Red Light Districted obligatory rest stop for backpackers who want to take pictures of each other giggling nervously over a ridiculously oversized and overpriced blunt. It is a beautiful city with hundreds of years of history and wonderful art museums, with the added bonus of hash bars freaking everywhere.
It's also about to be eaten by the ocean, every single minute of the day.
Most of Netherlands resides below sea level, and if anything -- anything, anywhere, at all -- goes wrong, Amsterdam will take an entire ocean right in the face. Subsequently, the map of the Netherlands would look a little something like this:
But the weed shops are OK, right? RIGHT?!
See the black blip labeled "Amsterdam" that's right in the middle of the fucking blue? That's what happens if just one of the various, intricate failsafe barriers and dams surrounding the country goes down. Not only the city (highest point: seven feet above sea level), but in fact much of the entire country (lowest point: minus 23 feet) is at constant risk of being claimed by the sea.
The good news is, Amsterdam's an old hand at fighting water and the authorities have actually set up the elaborate not-getting-drowned network that is keeping them safe. The bad news: They absolutely blow at keeping said network up to date. In fact, only 50 percent of the defenses are somewhat capable of handling their task of keeping people's feet dry. The Netherlands had their latest hazardous flood defense failure in 2010, and rest assured there will be more: Many experts are not even sure some of the dams will hold if they get just the tiniest of hairline cracks.
In fact, The defenses keeping Amsterdam turning from pot paradise to Waterworld are so leaky, maintaining and improving them (what with the rising sea levels) add up to around 1 billion euros a year. Oh, and that's just for ocean level preparedness. If the sea level rises sufficiently, their rivers can also fuck them up.
So, What Can Be Done?
Not a lot, really. There is a century-spanning multibillion-dollar plan to fortify the country's defenses, sure, but even its makers acknowledge the absurdity of attempting to plan so far into the future.
Still, before you rush mailing bong-shaped lifeboats to random Amsterdam dwellers, it's worth keeping in mind that this is a situation that has been going on for centuries. The country has been flooded dozens and dozens of times, including a great 1953 flood that essentially turned Amsterdam into Venice for a while.
So, they might be going under, and facing insurmountable odds against saving themselves from that fate, but at least they're fully aware what they're up against. Also, this situation goes a long way toward explaining all the pot.
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Poor Seattle can't catch a break. We've already covered how the mild-mannered city is particularly prone to giant earthquakes, but it gets even worse: the entire Greater Seattle is at the risk of being buried under a sea of mud.
The area lies downstream from Mount Rainier, which carries the questionable honor of being one of the most dangerous volcanoes in existence. However, this particular danger doesn't come from soot and magma -- sure, there would be some if it was to erupt, but that would be just the icing on the horror cake. The true killer would be a lahar, whose nerdy name betrays its potential for destruction. Lahars are giant flows of hot mud, trees and water, rolling forward with the consistency of a zillion tons of wet cement and at speeds up to 60mph.
"Slow down! You're devastating like a bat out of hell!"
And they can get big: Urban Seattle could be facing a Lahar as tall 600 freaking feet. How do we know? Because it's happened before! Around 5,000 years ago, a giant lahar called the Osceola Mudflow filled a part of Puget Sound with three cubic kilometers of hot, steamy, gooey mud. What was once a pristine sea was, in a matter of hours, suddenly 200 square miles of new land. For comparison, the disastrous 1985 Nevado del Ruiz lahar that killed 25,000 people in Colombia only had 2.5 percent of the volume of the Osceola Mudflow.
So, What Can Be Done?
A lahar detection system was installed in 1998, but it remains loose and incomprehensive. To make matters worse, these mud tsunamis (mudnamis!) are a right bastard to detect: a lahar doesn't need a volcanic eruption as an excuse to kick in: A sector collapse or some magma leakage could be enough to send a mudnami the size of Godzilla into Seattle.
We'll just get Matthew Broderick to stop it. No matter what happens, we win.
If just the Puyallup Valley lahar (the purple one in the above picture) sparks off, material damages alone could be as high as $13 billion. Also, a non-volcanic lahar could easily spread from one to several of the six (six!) Mount Rainer lahar systems, multiplying the destruction.
USGS via Wikipedia
Mudnami scoffs at your puny bridges.