A Look Back – Natural Disasters in 2016

By  | 
Tony Maples Photography


2016 has been a challenging year for first responders all across the nation. Natural disasters abounded. Numerous deaths can be blamed on these disasters.

All corners of the United States suffered from some type of natural disaster. These ranged from hurricanes, severe storms, flooding, blizzards, and tornadoes to wildfires and earthquakes. Let’s take a moment to look back on some of these.

Blizzards and Winter Storms


Photo: By Jim McDevitt Photographer. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

January and February gave birth to the 2016 North American winter storm. This storm created havoc from Texas to Canada, California to New England. In front of the storm, massive thunderstorms developed leading to a huge tornado outbreak.

Ohio Valley received 17 inches of snow. Southern California saw 70,000 people without electricity. The Midwest developed blizzard conditions and received over 18 inches of snow. Wolf Creek Pass got more than 23 inches of snow in 24 hours as the storm passed. Multiple feet of snow covered the mountains of Utah and Colorado.

Maximum snow depth in Glengary, West Virginia measured forty-two inches. Baltimore, Maryland recorded its largest snowfall on record.


Earthquake damage

Photo: Flickr/Thomas Hawk

In 2016, the earth shook quite a few times. Eight 5.0 and stronger earthquakes erupted across the U.S. On January 24, 2016, an earthquake measured 7.1 east of Old Iliamna, Alaska at a depth of 80.2 miles. Four homes were destroyed in Kenai after a gas leak.

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck offshore to the U.S. 45 miles south-southeast of Atka, Alaska on March 12, 2016. Its depth registered 11.8 miles. It was followed by a magnitude 6.0 aftershock on March 19th.

On September 3, 2016, northwest of Pawnee, Oklahoma registered the strongest earthquake ever to occur in the state. With a magnitude of 5.8, the earthquake caused injury to one person and damage to buildings in Pawnee.

Multiple buildings and minor injuries were reported in Cushing, Oklahoma a few months later on November 7th. The earthquake measured at a magnitude of 5.0.

Heading back to Alaska, another quake struck offshore 33 miles south of Shemy Island. This one measured 6.0 on December 3rd.

Last but not least, December 8th a magnitude 6.5 earthquake struck offshore approximately 99 miles west of Ferndale, California.

Supercell Storms and Flooding

severe thunderstorm

Photo: Flickr/MattysFlicks

Unprecedented storms and flooding drowned quite a few states between April and August. A minimum of forty-six confirmed deaths resulted from the flooding.

Starting mid-April, Houston, Texas flooded. In what has been called the wettest April in the city ever, more than 17 inches of rain dropped in one day on parts of the city. Up to four inches of rain per hour fell one morning at George Bush International Airport.

In Maryland, a severe thunderstorm dumped six inches of rain in two hours around Ellicott City. The resulting flash flood damaged many homes, businesses, sidewalks, and city landmarks. Main Street remained closed for more than two months after the flooding.

West Virginia and parts of Virginia took a soaking in late June. Eight to ten inches of rain fell over a period of 12 hours resulting in a flood tied for seventh among the deadliest floods in West Virginia’s history. According to meteorologists at the National Weather Service, this rainfall qualified as a 1,000-year event for parts of Fayette, Nicholas, and Greenbrier counties. The Elk River rose to an all-time high of 33.37 feet surpassing the previous record of 32 feet set in 1888.

In August, prolonged rainfall in southern parts of Louisiana resulted in catastrophic flooding. John Bel Edwards, governor of Louisiana, declared the disaster a “historic, unprecedented flooding event.” The Washington post noted that the “no-name storm” dumped three times as much rain on Louisiana as the infamous Hurricane Katrina.

From Flooding to Wildfires

natural disaster wildfire natural disasters

Photo: Flickr/US Fish and Wildlife Service

While some states washed away, others experienced extreme drought conditions. Lightning, arson, and camping related accidents have contributed to a series of wildfires sweeping the nation.

As of November 16, the US Forest Service reported 33 wildfires that burned more than 90,000 acres.

The Baker Canyon Fire began on March 3, 2016, northeast of Douglass, Arizona. It consumed 7,980 acres in Arizona and New Mexico. The Hayden Creek Fire, believed to have been started by a lightning strike on July 8th, consumed 16,000 acres.

In August, flames engulfed California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in California alone, 6,938 wildfires swallowed 565,070 acres.

Two minors were charged with arson in relation to the 2016 Great Smokey Mountain Fires. The Great Smoky Mountain Fires have been named the deadliest fires in the eastern U.S. since the Great Fires of 1947.

So much of the United States was destroyed by fire in 2016. Some caused by nature. Much of it contributed to arson.


natural disaster tornado

Photo: Flickr/paulmcenany

In 2016, 949 tornadoes broke out across the United States. Damage ranged from minimal to millions of dollars. Eight killer tornadoes spawned throughout the year resulted in 17 deaths.

Near the end of February, a storm complex developed and produced both a winter storm and the second largest tornado outbreak on record. Seven people were killed across the Gulf and East Coasts. Significant tornadoes raced across Louisiana and Mississippi. Strong tornadoes also impacted Virginia, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina killing four.

The year continued with additional massive tornadoes erupting in May and November. In May, tornadoes cut swaths of damage across the High Plains, central Midwest, and parts of the Ohio Valley. They also hit Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma.

A violent EF4 stovepipe tornado, the first violent tornado in the United States since an EF4 in Garland, Texas on December 26, 2015, near Katie, Oklahoma killed one person, leveled multiple homes and left behind extensive damage from ground scouring. A large EF3 wedge tornado from the same supercell caused major damage near Sulphur, Oklahoma.

In November, a four-day tornado outbreak crushed parts of the southern United States, as well as Iowa and Nebraska. This outbreak produced 46 tornadoes and killed five people.

Thank you to each and every first responder who provided aid during these trying times. Here’s to a safer and happier 2017.