5. An 80-Foot-High Tsunami Hits the U.S. East Coast
Imagine a series of tsunami waves racing across the Atlantic Ocean at more than 500 mph, headed directly for the United States. As the tsunami waves near shore, they reach a staggering height of more than 80 feet, inundating the Eastern Seaboard and washing inland several miles. Sound impossible? A couple of noted geologists, Britain’s Dr. Simon Day and Dr. Steven Ward of the University of California, created a media stir a few years ago by suggesting this very scenario. According to Day and Ward’s theory, a catastrophic eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa could send much of the volcano’s caldera plunging into the Atlantic, creating a tsunami that would devastate parts of several continents, including North America. Other geologists concede such a collapse would create a tsunami, but strongly disagree on whether the caldera would collapse in one giant block, the likelihood of such a collapse — it could be thousands of years from now — or whether the resulting tsunami could create such widespread devastation. Cumbre Vieja is an active volcano, most recently erupting in 1949 and 1971. Here’s a link to Day and Ward’s original report, with more of their predictions, including 300-foot-high waves smashing into the African coast.
4. Electromagnetic Pulse Bomb Knocks Out U.S. Electrical Grid
The threat of a terrorist group or rogue nation exploding a nuclear bomb over U.S. territory has many security analysts worried. A nuclear bomb or two, triggered at high altitude over the United States, could strike a critical blow to the country’s infrastructure. The electromagnetic pulse from such a bomb or bombs would fry electronic circuits. Modern cars would stop running and thousands of planes would fall from the sky. The biggest blow, however, would be the collapse of the country’s electrical grid. No power means major problems with water and sewer systems, communications, financial institutions, the supply and distribution of food and medicine and other mainstays of modern life.
The United States established the EMP Commission in 2001 to study the impact of such a threat and how the country could shield its infrastructure. Among other findings, the commission determined that such an attack could leave “significant parts” of the electrical infrastructure without power for months to a year or more. The commission’s chilling conclusion: “Should significant parts of the electrical power infrastructure be lost for any substantial period of time, the Commission believes that the consequences are likely to be catastrophic, and many people may ultimately die for lack of the basic elements necessary to sustain life in dense urban and suburban communities.” Dr. Peter Pry, president of EMPACT America, estimates the U.S. could lose two-thirds of its population to disease, starvation and societal breakdown in such a scenario. Here’s a link to the EMP Commission’s findings.
3. Earthquake Rocks South-Central U.S., Killing Tens of Thousands
In late 1811 and early 1812, a series of three earthquakes now estimated between 7.0 and 8.0 magnitude on the Richter Scale struck the sparsely populated Mississippi River Valley around the town of New Madrid, Missouri. Soil liquefied, structures collapsed and the Mississippi River ran backward. Geologists have found evidence of such severe earthquakes occurring thousands of years ago, and many are concerned a similar quake or series of quakes happening today could cause widespread death and devastation. A 2008 Federal Emergency Management Agency report noted a large earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone would cause “widespread and catastrophic physical damage” in eight Southern and Midwestern states, especially Tennessee and Missouri. Hundreds of bridges could collapse, and tens of thousands of buildings would be damaged. And then comes the danger posed by nuclear power plants in the region. A comparatively minor 5.8 magnitude quake in Virginia in 2011 temporarily shut down the North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia and led a dozen other nuclear facilities, from New Jersey south to North Carolina and west to Michigan, to declare an “Unusual Event,” the lowest level in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s emergency classification system. There are 15 nuclear power plants in the New Madrid Seismic Zone.
How serious is this threat? Consider that the Department of Homeland Security conducted an exercise in the region in May 2011 to test emergency preparedness for a New Madrid earthquake. The drill began with the premise of 100,000 deaths.
2. Terrorist Cyber Attack Targets U.S.
Army Gen. Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency, said in July 2012 that he rates the U.S. at 3, on a scale of 1-10, in terms of preparedness for a cyber attack. A major concern, Alexander told an audience at the Aspen Institute’s annual security forum, is an attack that would cripple vital servers and routers, which could take weeks or months to replace. Such an attack could also target the nation’s electrical grid, creating the same type of mayhem noted in item No. 4 above on the electromagnetic pulse scenario. As the investigation into the 2003 Northeastern blackout showed, the U.S. electrical grid is woefully outdated and subject to widespread failure under the right conditions.
Several avowed enemies of the United States, including Iran and North Korea, reportedly are active in the cyber attack realm. The threat is such that in 2009, President Barack Obama appointed Gen. Alexander to head a new Cyber Command, designed to protect U.S. computer networks and assets.
1. Yellowstone Supervolcano Erupts
This has been the veritable rock star of disaster scenarios in recent years, featured in a TV special and on the cover of the August 2009 issue of National Geographic. In a nutshell, the area under and around Yellowstone National Park is actually the caldera of an enormous supervolcano that explodes with cataclysmic force every 600,000 to 700,000 years or so. The most recent Yellowstone super eruption came 640,000 years ago. Such an eruption today would take an incredible toll on human life. Most of the population for hundreds of miles around would die instantly. Others as far away as the East Coast would suffer a slow, agonizing death as volcanic dust from the eruption clogged their lungs. That’s just the beginning. Volcanic dust would also contaminate water supplies, bury crops and could cause a type of “nuclear winter,” dramatically affecting global weather for several years. The good news? Some geologists believe changes in the Yellowstone caldera since the last mega-eruption make another such eruption unlikely.