How Do Natural Disasters Really Impact the Environment?

By Rose Morrison, managing editor of Renovated

Wherever you live, your location is vulnerable to a natural disaster. It could be a hurricane, wildfire, earthquake or another devastating event. These catastrophes ruin homes, retail stores, parks and other essential parts of your life. Over time, they also harm the environment by ravaging lands for hundreds of miles.

What impact does each disaster have? Here are five typical natural disasters and how climate change is doing no favors to help you.

How Common Are Natural Disasters?

The past few years have seen natural disasters get worse, and the culprit is climate change. For example, surface temperatures have risen about 2 F since 1880, warming the oceans. Hurricanes thrive in warm water, and this has only strengthened them. Residents, especially along the East Coast, must be more vigilant about these storms due to their increased intensity.

The problems from natural disasters will only worsen as the century progresses. The financial toll will be challenging to overcome, as will the impact on mental health. A Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment study finds natural disasters negatively affect the psychological and physiological health of the most vulnerable people. Disadvantaged communities often lack the resources to respond to natural disasters.

How Do Natural Disasters Really Impact the Environment? Children maneuvering small boast with bags and plants through a town of stilt houses over brown water.
Villages have adapted the design of houses to protect people from rising flood waters and small boats are used to transport people and food to sustain livelihoods. This kind of disaster risk reduction is an important Climate change adaptation
Photo: Rory Hunter, AusAID.
Credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – Disaster Risk Reduction

How Do Natural Disasters Affect the Environment?

Natural disasters directly impact people through financial factors or, at worst, taking human life. These events also harm the environment immediately and in the long term. Here’s how these five natural disasters affect the ecosystem.


One symptom of climate change has been an increase in wildfires. The planet has shifted to drier and warmer conditions, meaning areas prone to wildfires must brace for longer seasons. The U.S. saw the number of wildfires double between 1984 and 2015. These fires are especially prevalent in the western states and Alaska.

Fires are typical in nature and help the environment by creating a new place for plants, such as pyrophytes. However, wildfires are often unwelcome by scientists because they contribute to pollution.

A burning wildfire creates smoke that rises into the atmosphere. The smoke contains greenhouse gases (GHG) that compromise the air quality in urban and rural areas. Two of the worst GHGs are carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). Breathing in the air near a wildfire makes you susceptible to respiratory and cardiovascular problems.


The past two decades have seen torrential hurricanes that have devastated America’s Gulf Coast and numerous countries in the Caribbean. Hurricanes Maria, Katrina, Harvey and Michael are only a handful of the worst in recent memory. A Nature Climate Change study finds the frequency of sequential hurricanes has increased and will continue throughout the century.

Hurricanes start at Category 1 with winds at 74 mph. The most severe storms exceed 150 mph, easily shattering windows and destroying plywood some use for protection. Property owners have turned to high-impact windows because they’re double-paned and better equipped to handle disasters. States like Florida, Louisiana and Texas have long coastlines, so many residents frequently take precautions to protect themselves during hurricane season.

The environmental impact is brutal because hurricanes can kill essential animals and plants in an ecosystem. Powerful storms can also compromise facilities containing toxic chemicals, leading to spills and further devastation. These chemicals can end up in municipal water sources and contaminate residents’ drinking water. Spillage can also enter lakes and oceans, poisoning fish and other wildlife.


Flooding is a byproduct of stronger hurricanes. A Nature water study finds the last 20 years have seen a sharp increase in extreme rainfall and drought. Flooding has devastated lands worldwide, leading to issues with crop production and humanitarian crises.

Floods have caused problems in coastal communities. Rising water levels and stronger waves have led to erosion and increasingly dangerous conditions. This has pushed coastlines back and will continue as the years pass. For example, coastlines for southern states have recessed about 25 feet annually, whereas Great Lakes shorelines have seen worse damage, with 50 feet in annual recession.


Severe storms like hurricanes can also produce tornadoes. The South and the Midwest are particularly at risk because they’re where cold and warm fronts collide. People move to states like Oklahoma, Alabama and Mississippi to build houses for low prices, but they have to deal with twisters more than elsewhere.

Tornados are among the worst catastrophes for the environment. They carry dust from dry regions into other areas, thus increasing the risk of diseases like lung cancer. Tornados can also be devastating for chemical plants. An EF-5 tornado produces winds of 200 mph or more. These winds destroy homes and industrial plants, releasing toxic substances into the atmosphere and water systems.

Tornados can also lead to crop scarcity by wrecking farmland. Their strong winds can knock out grain silos, fields of crops and storage filled with ready-to-sell produce. Destroying crops can devastate the local, national and international supply chains that have already dealt with significant issues in the past few years.


People who live on the West Coast understand the impact of earthquakes. States like California and Alaska see the most seismic activity annually because of their position above fault lines. Scientists have found a link between climate change and earthquakes in recent years. Glaciers on both poles are melting, leading to more stress on tectonic plates. This creates more earthquakes and devastation for numerous communities worldwide.

Earthquakes are one of the worst natural disasters because they create other catastrophes when they strike. For example, recall the earthquake in Tōhoku, Japan, in 2011. The quake was 9.1 magnitude and spurred enormous tsunami waves from the Pacific Ocean. It also led to nuclear plant accidents like the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster. The incident was the most devastating nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

Earthquakes often cause landslides in areas with moist soil conditions. The shaking earth leads to giant rocks and debris falling from mountainsides and risking human life. The rapid movement also leads to liquefaction that compromises houses, buildings and roads. Bridges and pipelines can collapse, causing devastation for days and weeks for residents.

How Can Builders Create Long-lasting Homes?

These torrential storms can significantly affect communities by tearing down houses and stranding people. If an area sees a natural disaster once, it is likely to happen again. Coastal communities are especially vulnerable to hurricanes and flooding, leading many to wonder what these property owners need to make it through another storm.

One solution is to build with durable and sustainable materials. Additions like foundation wall panels and hurricane windows strengthen homes and reduce your carbon footprint by adding insulation. These installations protect against powerful wind gusts often seen in natural disasters. Another benefit is your home stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter without excessive HVAC use.

Building storm-resistant houses is crucial for homeowners and the environment. Structures that can withstand natural disasters reduce the need to consume new building materials. The construction sector has a significant carbon footprint in today’s world. Manufacturing steel, aluminum and cement contributes about 6% of CO2 emissions worldwide. Building for sustainability helps your home and the environment.

Bracing for Increased Impact

The next 75 years are critical for the planet’s health. Scientists say climate change’s adverse effects are here — and you can see them through natural disasters. Catastrophic events like wildfires, hurricanes and earthquakes have only worsened in the last century, and humanity needs to take steps to reduce their impact.

Rose Morrison

About the Author

Rose is the managing editor of Renovated and has been writing in the construction industry for over five years. She’s most passionate about sustainable building and incorporating similar resourceful methods into our world. For more from Rose, you can follow her on Twitter.