When Disaster Strikes

Tales of wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other reminders of who's really in charge.
29 stories

“Is Something Burning?”

The night the fires came to Wildcat Canyon.

Feb 2004

Brinks of Disaster

The impossibility of predicting cataclysmic events like the Haitian earthquake has not prevented scientists from trying. A survey of the dismal science of disaster prognostication.

Feb 2010

The Tsunami Volunteers

While many travelers fled the adventure hubs of Thailand after the December 26 disaster, a dedicated corps of divers and backpackers arrived to help. Here’s their story.

By Exclusive

Living under the Volcano

The experts believe Mount Rainier will give plenty of notice before it erupts again—the problem is that it can kill in other ways.

Zone A-Plus

Skeletons of Hurricane Sandy, and what was left for one couple on Pioneer Street.

Nov 2012
By Editors Recommend

Rendering Inferno

Flames leap 200 feet in the air and burn at 2,000 degrees. A rain of fire sets thousands of acres ablaze. The smoke jumpers may get the glory, but the battle is being won by the wildfire simulation brigade.

Oct 2004

Whose Fault?

Scientists had long suspected frackers caused earthquakes. But when a dead fault unleashed a 5.7 on Oklahoma, it rocked seismology to the core.

Mar 2013

Katrina: The Untold Story

Two years after the killer hurricane, those hit hardest are still fighting despair and searching for hope.

Sep 2007

Before the Flood

How we saved San Francisco after the earthquake of 1906.

By Exclusive

Chase of the Tornadoheads

Eight hours in Twister Alley, looking for the sky to go atomic.

Apr 1993

Amateurs without Borders

Sailing post-earthquake aid to Haiti as part of an ad hoc group seemed like an urgent—and adventuresome—opportunity. One out of two ain’t bad.

Jun 2010

Please God Stop the Rain

The day, one year ago, that Hurricane Irene nearly drowned Prattsville, New York, population 700.

Aug 2012

Burning Question

Why are wildfires defying long-standing computer models?

Sep 2012

California’s Delta Water Blues

Can California build the new water system experts say it needs—before an earthquake brings the levees down?

Jan 2011

Help Thy Neighbor

Volunteers pitch in when farmers find themselves in trouble.

A Tale of Two Volcanoes

Where Iceland’s volcano has set off a wave of high-technology panic, a volcanic eruption in Java over a century ago set off something benign and quite lovely.

We’re Lucky We Weren’t Wiped Out

The volcanic ash cloud from Eyjafjallajokull has caused travel chaos and misery. But we were lucky. An eruption in the future could wipe out the human race.

Apr 2010

Bill Clinton and the Country That Never Was

While most of the world has stopped paying attention to Haiti, he has become the de facto leader of the effort to rebuild the country after the historic earthquake. The problem is, there wasn’t much there to begin with.

Aug 2010

Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood?

The universal human myth may be the first example of disaster reporting.
Nov 2007

Beyond Relief

A year and a half after the island was reduced to rubble by an earthquake, the world’s unprecedented effort to rebuild it has turned into a disaster of good intentions.

Aug 2011

Out of the Ashes

What does it take to recover from an emotional and financial catastrophe? Ten years after the Oakland wildfires, three families look back.

Oct 2001
By Exclusive

Snow Fall

A harrowing tale of life and death in an out-of-bounds ski area in Washington State, this is the extended version of the Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times report.


If a scientist stands in the way of 150 tons of snow crashing down a mountain at 50 mph, can he figure out why it let loose and when it will again?

Dec 1999
By Exclusive
By Editors Recommend


First went the power. Then came the water, and for five days, the country’s oldest hospital was under siege. The never-before-told story of the heroic doctors, nurses, and patients who fought to survive Hurricane Katrina at Charity Hospital in New Orleans.

Aug 2013

Searching for Answers in the Rubble

On mankind’s shifting engagement with the spiritual and scientific worlds in the wake of natural disasters.

The Disaster Response Industry’s Salesmen of the Apocalypse

In the wake of Fukushima, Sandy, and Nemo—not to mention North Korean nuclear tests—disaster is a growth business.

Totally Psyched for the Full-Rip Nine

Monster earthquakes are going off all around the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire. Is the West Coast of North America next? And can you surf a tsunami?

Aug 2011

Swallowed by the Sea

As Japan reels from the tsunami, archeologists claim to have discovered the lost city of Atlantis, a fabled place built—like much of the world—in the crosshairs of nature.

Mar 2011
By Exclusive

Into the Forbidden Zone

Armed with a capricious radiation detector, National Book Award winner William T. Vollmann ventures into the hot zone mere days after Japan’s 2011 nuclear disaster.