What is the Most Dangerous Natural Disaster?

Satellite view of earth with sun peaking out from behind it

Earth is powerful. Natural disasters constantly occur around the world, all the time. Some can be deadly and cause destruction that takes years to rebuild, while others are so unnoticeable  that we’re unaware when they occur. For example, earthquakes with a magnitude of less than two happen several hundred times a day across the globe. 

As natural disasters continue to impact parts of the Earth, humans have adapted and proactively prepared to prevent damage. As a result, natural disasters don’t kill as many people as they used to. However, significant disasters occur every once in a while, devastating areas around the planet. 

This article will explore 10 of the most dangerous natural disasters and answer the big question; what is the most dangerous natural disaster?

Deadliest Natural Disasters around the World

The following natural disasters have resulted in the highest number of deaths worldwide. The rankings are based on the information found in this database and were last updated in November 2021. The disasters are ranked from least to most dangerous. 

10. Extreme Heat

Extreme heat, or heat waves, occur when high atmospheric pressure pushes warm air toward the planet’s surface. Extreme heat lasts for an extended period, typically two to three days, and requires the body to work incredibly hard to maintain its normal temperature.

The term “extreme heat” is relative, depending on the typical temperatures in an area for a specific time of year. Extremely high temperatures can cause heat-related illnesses such as cramps, rashes, fainting, exhaustion, and stroke. 

Worst Heat Wave in History

According to the Guinness World Records, the deadliest heat wave was in Russia in 2010. The heat wave caused 56,000 deaths from overheating, forest fires, droughts, smog, and people drowning when trying to cool off in rivers and lakes. The highest temperature reached was 111.2 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The hottest heat wave occurred in California in 1913. Temperatures in Death Valley reached 157 degrees Fahrenheit. 

9. Tornado

Tornado touching ground

Tornadoes occur when humid, warm air collides with dry, cold air, creating an updraft that begins to rotate and fuel powerful winds. They often occur before or during a thunderstorm.

Tornadoes themselves are less deadly than a lot of people think. Most victims are actually struck by flying debris rather than the actual tornado. Twisters only create destruction for as little as a few seconds to around 3 hours, unlike hurricanes and cyclones, which can last for days. Also, most tornadoes only travel up to 6 miles before dying out. 

There are about 1,000 tornadoes in the US annually, averaging 80 deaths per year. 

Worst Tornado in History

Occasionally tornadoes occur that defy these averages, lasting longer than 3 hours and traveling more than 6 miles. 

The deadliest tornado was the Daulatpur–Saturia tornado in Bangladesh in 1989. The tornado traveled about 50 miles, and wind speed reached 260 miles per hour. The death toll was around 1,300 victims, and another 12,000 civilians were injured. 

8. Extreme Cold

Extreme cold refers to temperatures at or below -35 degrees Fahrenheit with winds under 5 miles per hour, according to the US National Weather Service. However, these temperatures are relative to the US; extreme cold standards can be lower in places like Canada. 

A healthy adult can develop frostbite on uncovered skin areas within 10 to 20 minutes in extreme freezing temperatures. 

Worst Cold Wave in History

In the winter of 1936, the United States experienced its most intense cold wave, the North American cold wave. Midwestern states, like Nebraska and North and South Dakota, were hit the hardest. Temperatures reached -60 degrees Fahrenheit. 

7. Wildfire

Smoke from wildfire filling forest air

Wildfires are caused by different factors, including droughts and human activities. Wildfires can occur anywhere in the United States or the world, and commonly occur in Canada, Australia, and South Africa. 

The west and southwest parts of the US suffer from more extensive and widespread wildfires.

Worst Wildfire in History

The deadliest recorded wildfire in history was Wisconsin’s Peshtigo Fire of 1871. There were at least 1,500 fatalities and 1.2 to 1.5 million acres burned. 

6. Volcanic Eruption

Volcanic activity is constantly occurring worldwide; however, we only hear about it when a significant eruption occurs. A volcanic eruption is when gas and lava are released from a volcano. Significant eruptions usually result in deaths, damage to cities, cause tsunamis or are related to seismic activity. 

Most active volcanoes are on the boundaries between tectonic plates. For example, the Ring of Fire is a path along the Pacific Ocean where many volcanic eruptions occur. 

Worst Volcanic Eruptions in History

Some of the worst eruptions in history have been the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa in Indonesia with 36,000 deaths, the 1902 Mount Pelee eruption in Martinique with 30,000 deaths, and the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz eruption in Colombia with 23,000 deaths. 

5. Landslide

Rocks falling down a hill during a landslide

Landslides are when land, debris, or pieces of Earth slide down a slope from a higher point. The term encompasses mudslides, mudflows, debris flows, avalanches, and rock slides. Landslides can happen quickly or slowly, lasting from a few seconds to more extended periods, and they have various causes, such as wildfires, volcanic activity, erosion, among others. 

Landslides can happen anywhere that has a mountainous or sloped region. Areas with high seismic activity see a lot of landslides. 

Worst Landslide in History

The deadliest landslide occurred in Haiyuan Flows, Ningxia, China, in 1920, resulting in over 100,000 deaths. In addition, it created mass destruction in over 7,000 square miles of area. 

4. Hurricane, Typhoon, and Cyclone

The only difference between these 3 storm events is the location. Hurricanes happen in the North Atlantic and Northeast Pacific Oceans. Typhoons take place in the Northwest Pacific. Finally, cyclones arise in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean

These events can create wickedly strong winds, heavy rain, and severe flooding and cause death and mass destruction. 

Worst Hurricane and Cyclone in History

The most deadly hurricane in the US was the Great Galveston Storm in Texas in 1900, with over 8,000 deaths. 

The worst Cyclone was in the 1970 Bhola cyclone that struck East Pakistan (now known as Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal. There were between 300,000 and 500,000 fatalities.

3. Earthquake

Pavement in road cracked from earthquake

Earthquakes occur due to friction between tectonic plates. If plates get stuck and collide, compress or move a certain way, it sends energy to the surface. The movement we feel is what we know as an earthquake. 

Most earthquakes occur along the Pacific Ocean, where there is a lot of seismic activity. Some earthquakes are stronger than others, and the Richter scale measures Earthquakes from 0 to 10. 

Worst Earthquake in History

The most deadly earthquake in history occurred in Shaanxi, China, in 1556, which killed around 830,000 people. This earthquake has a magnitude of 8. 

The deadliest earthquake in recent years had a magnitude of 7 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010, resulting in around 316,000 fatalities. 

The strongest earthquake was a 9.5 and happened in Chile in 1960.

2. Flooding

The second most dangerous natural disaster is a flood. Flooding occurs when water covers an area that is usually dry. There are several causes of floods; dam failures, excessive rain, hurricanes, tsunamis, or fast-melting snow. 

Most fatalities occur when floods happen with little to no warning. Some can take hours to develop, while others emerge suddenly. 

Most flooding occurs in coastal areas; however, anywhere that experiences intense rainfall, or sudden dam breaks can undergo flooding. Flood events in the US kill around 100 people per year.

Worst Flood in History

The deadliest flood in history happened in China in 1931. It’s known as the Yangtze-Huai River flood and devastated the population. The highest estimated death toll is 4 million people. Other severe floods in China have occurred around the Yellow River. 

The Most Dangerous Natural Disaster

dry field showing effects of a drought

  1. Drought and Famine

Droughts are conditions drier than normal that occur when there is a prolonged stretch of abnormally low or no rainfall. During droughts, there are water shortages and crop damage. 

Famine is when a population faces an extreme scarcity of food, leading to extreme hunger, starvation, and death. Famine is frequently caused by drought and limited crop supply; however, there are other causes like insect infestation, flooding, and other natural disasters.

Poorer countries often face more famine, while drought can occur anywhere. 

Worst Drought and Famine in History

One of the worst droughts in the US happened during the 1930s Dust Bowl period. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 50 million acres of land were affected.

The deadliest famine in history happened in China between 1959 and 1961. It’s known as the Great Chinese Famine; 15 to 55 million deaths occurred due to the famine.


Natural disasters reach all corners of the world. As society continues to advance technologically, the effects of natural disasters are reduced. However, individuals should know what hazards commonly strike their area and prepare for them. Our Grab + GO Box can help you develop action plans in case of a disaster occurrence.