We think of nature in human terms: naturally occurring weather or geological extremes are disasters. But in purely physical terms, they are simply occurrences that change the conditions on this planet, either short-term or long-term. Since change is continually occurring, the scope of change is basically all that we concern ourselves with.
Let's put things into perspective regarding the latest hurricane. No doubt, it was devastating in human terms. The affected area is about the size of Great Britain. Indeed, if that had happened to the British Isles, the country would be crippled. This hurricane will cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. FEMA is being criticized for its response. Well, that's easy to do. But let's look at some other possibilities.
- 9.5 earthquake hits San Francisco and triggers subsequent earthquakes up and down the coast. Several million lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars in property damage. San Francisco and Los Angeles fall into chaos. City officials blame (fill in the blank).
- Freak storm hits from Wisconsin to Massechusetts creating a coating of ice 6-10" thick destroying millions of homes and businesses, shutting down utilities and destroying the electric distribution grid and gasoline storage facilities. 8 states are without power or heat and millions are homeless. Chaos affects major cities from Chicago to Boston.
- The Yellowstone Basin erupts on schedule (actually a little late). Western and Midwestern states are covered in 3-10 feet of volcanic ash and the air is poisonous. There are no actual accounts of damage; there will be no accounts for months.
- A small asteroid strikes the Atlantic Ocean between Virginia and Northern Africa. 300' waves traveling at 700 mph strike the coasts of the U.S., Europe, Africa and South America. All remaining manufacturing is moved to China.