What Natural Disasters Are Most Likely in Seattle?


There is no metropolitan area on the planet that can rest without fear of natural disasters. Coastal cities live with the threat of floods, cyclones or hurricanes, mountain cities must deal with blizzards, and cities near tectonic faults are especially at risk. Seattle is in the quiet Pacific Northwest, though not completely protected from natural disasters. The city is well prepared for natural disasters, according to the San Francisco Gate.


  • The infamous Mount Saint Helens volcano is about 100 miles south of Seattle. In 1980, it unleashed a furious eruption upon the region, claiming 57 lives and burying the surrounding area with a blast of pyroclastic material. The blast did not affect the immediate Seattle metro area, but it serves as a sobering reminder that Mount Rainier, an even less monitored volcano, sits even closer. In an eruption, it could significantly alter the face of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area with lahars, another term for mud flows. Mount Rainier is a volcano for study because of its proximity to a metro population and its high potential for devastation.


  • Nestled on a geologically active tectonic plate, Seattle has a history of experiencing earthquakes. With earthquakes as unpredictable as they are dangerous, the United States Geological Survey claims that the Seattle fault represents a major hazard. The 20th century brought two major quakes to Seattle, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 1949 and a 6.5 magnitude quake in 1965. These were not merely crustal quakes. Their cause was from movement deep beneath the surface of the earth. The Seattle fault lies beneath urban development and glacial activity, hindering attempts to study the fault to provide a warning system.


  • Seattle is famous for its particularly dreary, wet weather. This climate, along with snow-melt from the Cascade Mountains, can trigger massive landslides. On such slide was the fabled Electron Mudflow nearly 500 years ago. While such a landslide would not immediately affect the Seattle urban area, utilities and transportation networks would experience significant disruption. Additionally, landslides accompany earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, providing a potential one-two punch to the city.

Liquid Threats

  • Seattle has a flood monitoring system in place because of the constant flooding of area rivers. But since these rivers are relatively young, they constantly shift and erode, making them difficult to predict. These floods can threaten the foundation of area buildings. Deadly tsunamis are also a potential reality in Seattle, despite the perceived security of its Puget Sound location, a tsunami could flood waterways around the city almost instantly.


  • Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images
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