How do you explain natural disasters to kids?
So, what are natural disasters for kids? Your kids have probably heard the term ‘natural disaster’ in the classroom or on the news. A simple definition of a natural disaster is an adverse event initiated by biological processes, such as a sudden change in the earth’s crust or climate. There are plenty of categories that we can use to distinguish natural disasters, but here are the fundamental three:
- Geological disasters
- Hydrological disasters
- Meteorological disaster
These basic categorizations, however, have been blurred in recent years with the growing threat of climate change. As a result, natural disasters that scientists predict may not have happened with as much frequency or intensity have been caused by the warmer climate, the rising sea levels, and the breakdown of ecosystems. In this way, Geography’s definition of a natural and unnatural disaster is less clear.
Geological natural disasters for kids
Avalanches and Landslides – This is when material runs down a slope. In the case of an avalanche, this will be snow that has either built up in a vulnerable position or fallen because of a sudden warm climate that has weakened the structure of the ice underneath. It is the same principle for landslides, which tend to occur because of cut material on mountainsides. This can be because of rain or excavation. Mines also tend to experience landslides because of the removal of supporting material when harvesting metal or other minerals.
Earthquakes – Energy is released when the earth’s crust moves, and two plates either converge or shift over one another. An earthquake results from that energy transferring into seismic waves, which carry everything around it, depending on where the epicenter (the point directly above the collision) often determines the consequences. Earthquakes are typically not the reason for the damage, but secondary events such as tsunamis, building collapses, and volcanic eruptions are hugely disastrous.
Volcanic eruptions – As mentioned, volcanic eruptions result from the energy generated by tectonic plates’ movement. When the earth’s crust generates this energy, some of this travels in the form of heat. Under the earth’s surface, it becomes hot enough for the rock to melt and become magma. This molten rock is lighter than the surrounding rock, so it travels to the surface, eventually exploding like a volcano. The molten lava, however, is often not the primary concern. Instead, the extremely hot gases and clumps of rock that take flight create a deadly pyroclastic flow. The speed with which this travels is typically how the disastrous effects are caused.
Hydrological natural disasters for kids
Floods – Floods can be caused for several reasons, and are not always disasters, making the definition of this natural disaster hard to establish in Geography. Floods are an influx of water in an area typically dry and inhabited by humans, such as a city, town, or village. This may be caused by unprecedented levels of rain that either flood valleys or burst boundaries where water is ordinarily contained. It can also be caused by the sudden melting of glaciers, where water travels from high latitudes to lower ground. Sometimes floods are welcomed, especially in natural or rural landscapes, because they enrich the soil. Check out this page on floodplains for more information about how floods in certain areas of the world are not disasters.
Tsunamis – This kind of natural disaster is the earthquake’s seismic waves have a repercussion on the water. Tsunamis are often more devastating than earthquakes because the waves can travel as far as 16 km on land after reaching the coast. And tsunamis do not consist solely of one wave; they usually possess a wave train where four or five waves may arrive after the initial wave hits. There can be up to 100 miles between a seismic wave, meaning the subsequent waves can come between five minutes and two hours later.
Limnic eruptions are far less common than other hydrological natural disasters, as only two events of this kind have been observed. Limnic eruptions or a lake overturn as it is sometimes called, are when pockets of carbon dioxide that have long been sequestered under a body of water then erupt, travel to the surface, and asphyxiate the humans, animals, and wildlife nearby.
Meteorological natural disasters for kids
Cyclones and hurricanes – These names are used interchangeably, depending on which sea or ocean the event occurs. Fundamentally, a hurricane occurs when warm moist air rises over the water. When this process continues, large swathes of heavy clouds, a storm, start to swirl. This is because of the earth’s Coriolis Effect, which dictates that anything suspended or in motion over long distances starts to detour from a straight line. When a cyclone reaches land, it can be dangerous because it inflicts extreme winds, rainfall, and flooding that can affect the area.
Heatwaves and droughts are significant periods of excessively hot weather, which can cause several issues, such as deaths from overheating, crop failure, and wildfires. In addition, in hot woodland areas, trees are often dried up by the sun, making them easily explosive and capable of spreading fire to neighboring trees and buildings.
Blizzards and hail storms – High winds stir up snow that has already fallen, obstructing travel, medical care, and agriculture. Sometimes precipitation and rain will freeze in very cold conditions and remain frozen after hitting the ground.