6 Chilling Ice Storms, Tsunamis and Floods

(Part 2 in a 4-Part Exclusive WebEcoist Series on Incredibly Destructive Natural Disasters)

Nature’s famous duality – beautiful landscapes of nature and terrifying natural disasters – fills all of us with a reverence for her power. Here are some of the most powerful and surprising water disasters in recent history, from sudden ice to racing tsunamis to vast floods, captured in words, images and videos.

Ice Storms

Perhaps most unusual of all nature’s liquid weapons are the ice storms. Coating areas in a thick and impenetrable layer of freezing ice, these storms are not only sudden, but truly extreme in some cases.

North American Ice Storm

(Images via John Ferguson, nature blog, Dark Roasted Blend)

Quebec famously ground to a halt in 1998 when freezing rain enveloped the city in a layer of cement-like ice. It’s beautiful, certainly, but when you consider that just an inch of ice can create several pounds of weight, and then imagine everything – plants, garden equipment, power lines, cars, roofs – being weighed down by 6, 10 or 12 inches of ice, you can imagine why it can take weeks to get “out from under” the ice and repair the damage. This devastating storm caused 30 deaths and weeks of power outages to millions of Canadians. The electrical grid had to be rebuilt.

Versoix, Switzerland

(Images via floccipics and Category Five)

But it’s not just New England and Canada that are prone to freezing rain storms. (The warm air from the Mississippi mixes with shallow cool air at the St. Lawrence and Ottawa valleys, leading to frozen rain in areas like Quebec, Montreal and even New York, though typically these frozen rain storms only deposit an inch or less of condensation.) The small town of Versoix, outside Geneva City, Switzerland, experienced a fluke freezing rain storm in January 2005 and the resulting ice created memorable images for miles.

(Images via Category Five)

Scraping the ice off the car just took on whole new meaning: from chore to career.


Tsunamis used to catch humans by surprise. With modern technology, preparations can generally be made – except in the tragic case of the world’s worst tsunami in 2004.

Indian Ocean Tsunami

(Images via Nomad4Ever and Crystalinks)

Tsunamis in the past have been devastating – such as the 1883 Krakatau tsunami in Indonesia, triggered by a 15-mile-high volcanic explosion heard 2,500 miles away –  but the most deadly tsunami in human history was triggered by the Indian Ocean Earthquake of Sumatra in 2004.

According to Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, “the the day after Christmas, 2004, a combination 9.1-9.3 earthquake-tsunami in the Indian Ocean created untold destruction and took nearly 300,000 lives. Tsunami waves up to 100 feet high wiped out coastlines of eleven countries and that coupled with the earthquake designates this quake as one the worst in history, according to experts. Indonesia, India, Thailand and Sri Lanka suffered the greatest losses and damage. A global outpouring raised over $7 billion in aid and efforts were undertaken to improve the tsunami alert service and technology for these regions.”

Chilean Tsunami

(Images via USGS, Washington.edu and NIWA)

The Chilean Tsunami of 1960 flooded 500 coastal miles of Chile with a massive 30-foot wave and created crashing waves as far away as Hawaii. The tsunami destroyed 1 in 3 homes in the region and was triggered by the largest earthquake in the 20th century – a 9.5 on the Richter Scale. Over 2,000 people died.


People the world over have to deal with floods that come from earthquakes, storms, seasonal weather patterns – even global warming. Here are just two stunning examples of the power of floods.

The Great Flood

(Images via NASA, geology news and Minnesota Storm Chasers)

The Great Flood of 1993 stunned American Midwesterners with its endless volume. One of the worst floods in American history, it lasted a mind-boggling seven months and encompassed areas near both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and their tributaries.

(Images via Wikipedia)

30,000 square miles of flooded land cost over $15 billion to repair – the most expensive in U.S. history. By some standards it was the worst flood ever to hit North America. In places, the water crested 10 feet above the flood line. The images above show satellite imaging of normal water levels (lower left) and the Great Flood levels.

South Asia Floods

(Images via Skywatch, Watthead and bdix)

In 1997 and again in 1998, some of the worst floods in human memory occurred in South Asia. India, Bangladesh and Nepal saw damage to such a great extent that 30 million people were injured, displaced or affected (by conservative estimates). Water at heights of 10 feet or more literally marooned people into rooftop and hilltop clusters. South Asia had a particularly devastating decade of floods from 1987-1997, with billions in damage.

See Even More Incredible Natural Disasters:

Part One: 8 Devastating Earth and Land Disasters
Part Three: 6 Scorching Heat and Fire Disasters
Part Four: 10 Sweeping Wind and Sky Disasters


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