20 Signs That a Natural Disaster Is About To Strike

J-Shaped Trees

J-Shaped Trees

If you’re hiking in the forest, be sure to watch out for J-shaped trees. Their bent trunks might look unusually spectacular, but, the misshapen woods serve as a warning sign from nature of a potential landslide.

Trees bent into such strange shapes tend to point to slow-moving ground (or soil creep) beneath the surface and, whilst this might sound harmless enough, it can often be the case that a landslide is soon to follow.

The danger is greatest in sloped woodland areas and, whilst it can be tempting to start exploring, it’s best not to linger long. Look out for cracks and crevices in the surrounding ground — and by no means consider climbing a J-shaped tree or you might end up bringing the whole hillside down.

Roaring Ocean Sound

Roaring Ocean Sound

Image: Shootthedevgru, Wikipedia Commons

The sound of the ocean can be calming, but should the seas ever start to roar, it’s time to run. This is a clear warning sign that a tsunami is approaching. Trust us on this one: you don’t want to hang about on the beach.

Caused by great underwater earthquakes that displace the water above them, a tsunami is an enormous tidal wave that packs immense power. Destroying everything that stands in its path, this is a phenomenon that is to be avoided at all costs.

The Indian Ocean tsunami that devastated Banda Aceh in 2004 remains fresh in the memory, this a disaster that wreaked havoc and claimed countless lives. The wall of water came quickly, but the tsunami was preceded by that terrible tell-tale sound. Heard the roar? Leave the beach behind and head for higher ground as quickly as possible.

Green Skies

Green SkiesImage: SturmjaegerTobi, Pixabay

If the skies have turned green, it’s time to start moving. This is often an indication that a tornado is approaching. Fail to act fast and you might pay the ultimate price. Ignoring nature’s warning can be serious indeed.

Those living in Tornado Alley, an area of the United States where severe storms are commonplace, recognise the tell-tale signs all too well. The skies start to darken before turning a distinctive colour that has long confounded scientists. You don’t need to understand why the skies turn green — you just have to know what to do.

Known also as a twister, a fast-moving tornado can generate wind speeds of more than 300mph, a force that wreaks havoc and destroys everything that stands in its path. Trust us on this — this is no time to dither. If the skies have turned green, it’s time to start moving. Leave everything behind and don’t look back.

Square Waves

Square Waves

Image: Michel Griffon, Wikipedia Commons

Square waves indicate a phenomenon known as a “cross sea”. Spotted the warning signs? Be sure to take heed. For swimmers, surfers and even large ships, square waves indicate significant hazards that should not be underestimated.

Those hazards? Beneath the surface, there are strong undercurrents that can pull the unprepared down to the depths, with anyone caught often coming to an unfortunate end. Those in the water risk drowning, whilst vessels caught in a cross sea can be wrecked, regardless of their size.
Look out for the tell-tale signs that occur when two wave systems run into each other. This is a wind-generated phenomenon and those who do spot the square patterns on the ocean surface should take evasive action and head for calmer waters immediately.

Stampeding Animals

Stampeding Animals

There are devastating wildfires raging all over the world right now. These pose obvious dangers, right? Heed the warning signs and disaster can be averted. Fail to take notice, however, and the consequences could be dire.

Looking out for smoke is the most obvious step to take, although once a fire has taken hold, it’s often too late. Your best bet? Keep a close eye on the animals — and be prepared to run.

Some animals don’t flee a fire, with amphibians and certain small mammals burrowing deep beneath the ground, whilst others take refuge in rivers and lakes. Most, however, opt to run. This can be good and bad for anyone who happens to be in the area.

Good because, as warning systems go, there’s nothing quite as effective as a stampede of panicking animals. Bad, because to stand in their path might be even more dangerous than the fire itself. Your best bet in such situations? Be prepared and don’t hang around.

Lakes Near Volcanoes

Lakes Near Volcanoes

Image: Bill Evans, Wikimedia Commons

Lakes that are close to volcanoes should always be treated with extreme caution. From time to time, pressure builds beneath the lake bed, causing a powerful underground explosion that is known as a limnic eruption.

Such a disastrous event can prove deadly, but for those in the know, there are certain warning signs to look out for. Has there been an earthquake or a landslide on the surrounding slopes? Has it been raining heavily? If so, you should vacate the area without delay. The bubbling magma that lies beneath the lake produces carbon dioxide that, when disturbed, erupts — sending water high into the sky, and releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere.

These gases are poisonous enough to put an end to all life in the immediate vicinity. In 1986, a limnic eruption at Lake Nyos in Cameroon killed more than 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock. Seen the warning signs? Take immediate action.

Wall of Dust

Wall of DustImage: Zooey, Wikimedia Commons

Dust storms can be deadly. Most common in the Middle East, Africa, United States and Australia, this meteorological phenomenon is not to be underestimated. Dust storms can be several miles long and thousands of feet high.

Blanketing all in thick dirt and debris, everything that stands in a dust storm’s path is in grave danger. Most often whipped up by the strong winds from a thunderstorm, a dust storm can be hard to predict, although darkening skies should indicate that something is amiss. Look out for the tell-tale wall of dust that can often be seen from a distance. Once the storm strikes, visibility is all but non-existent, so taking decisive action can be crucial.

Those driving vehicles are in the greatest danger, so get off the road as soon as possible and find a safe place to park up until the storm has passed. Don’t forget to turn off your lights or other drivers, lost and disorientated in the dust, might make a beeline for you — with disastrous consequences.

Cracks In Your Walls Or Floors

Cracks In Your Walls Or Floors

Image: Oregon Department of Transportation, Wikimedia Commons

Noticed cracks starting to form in the floors or walls? Take heed. This is a clear sign that a sinkhole could be forming — and a warning that must not be ignored.

Most common in areas built upon unstable underground limestone, sinkholes can be enormous, opening up with little notice and swallowing everything that stands above. Don’t want to disappear into the abyss? Be sure to look out for the tell-tale signs.

There are other indications — such as doors and windows no longer closing properly, circular depressions appearing in the ground and localised subsidence in and around the property. Such things often point to a sinkhole taking shape, especially following a storm, when excessive rainfall erodes the limestone, causing the ground to collapse, often with disastrous consequences. Do you live in an area rich in limestone? Be aware, be prepared and, should cracks start to appear, be ready to move fast.

Bands In The Sky

Bands In The SkyImage: John Kerstholt, Wikimedia Commons

Bands forming in the sky? Such a sight can appear attractive. Don’t be fooled, however, for the consequences can be severe indeed.

Known as Inflow Bands, such cloud formations indicate that a tornado is starting to take shape. Spotted the signs? Take our advice and don’t delay. Heed nature’s warnings and find a safe place to shelter.

Storm chasers might seek out Inflow Bands, but for those keen to avoid extreme weather and the hazards it can bring, dramatic skies should set alarm bells ringing. Look out for long streaks of rotating clouds that stretch out into the eye of the storm. This means low-level air is being drawn in from far away — and that a natural disaster is imminent. Be aware and have a safe place prepared. Bands forming in the sky? Batten down the hatches, head to the basement and keep your fingers crossed.

Cracked or Missing Tree Bark

Cracked or Missing Tree Bark

Image: woodleywonderworks, Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a worrying statistic: figures suggest that, worldwide, falling trees kill more people on an annual basis than shark attacks. Live close to the forest? You should always be on your guard. Trees can be dangerous things — although nature’s warning signs are there for those who are able to read them.

The main things to look out for are cracked bark on the trunk — or areas where the bark is missing altogether. This indicates that something is amiss and that the tree’s structure has, perhaps, been compromised. In such a situation, all it takes is a strong wind for disaster to strike.

Find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time and you could be crushed. There are other warning signs to heed — including holes in the trunk, dead or fallen branches and lost leaves. Seen such signals? Call in an expert and keep your distance.

Rushing Water

Rushing WaterImage: Kingbob86, Wikipedia Commons

There can be little more frightening than the unexpected sound of rushing water. This ranks amongst nature’s foremost disaster warnings. Our advice? Heed the signs, be decisive and take evasive action.

Rushing water often points to a flash flood and, so powerful and destructive can such a phenomenon prove, you really don’t want to stand in its path. Flash floods can wreak havoc, sweeping away buildings, bridges, vehicles and trees — in addition to those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Close to a river or stream? Be alert following heavy rainfall and during storms as these are the times when the danger is the greatest.
Flash floods rank amongst the deadliest forms of severe weather on the planet — the raging torrents tearing through neighbourhoods and leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Heard the unexpected sound of rushing water? Don’t dither — head for higher ground as quickly as possible.

Red Sea Water

Red Sea Water

Image: Alejandro D’az, Wikimedia Commons

If there’s fish on the beach then there is a clear sign that something is amiss in the water. Ignore the warnings and the consequences could be dire. Such an occurrence indicates a red tide, an algal bloom in the sea, when toxic algae has built up to such a level that it is harmful to health.

The fish in particular find themselves in the firing line — hence their presence on the sands. But for humans too, conditions in the water can cause problems.

Respiratory issues are commonplace for those who ignore nature’s warning sign, with coughing and severe throat irritation amongst the symptoms. It isn’t deadly, but it is uncomfortable and our best advice is to avoid exposure at all costs.

Other tell-tale signs include water that has turned red or sometimes brown. However, this isn’t always the case and, for those keen to get a heads-up, fish on the beach remains the best indicator of all.

Cracked Snow Underfoot

Cracked Snow Underfoot

More than 150 people die in avalanches on an annual basis. These devastating snow slides can seem sudden, but recognise the signs and clear warnings are in place.

Listen out for the tell-tale “whump” sound when walking and always take the weather conditions into account. Significant snowfall and rains can lead to an avalanche, as can warmer temperatures. But cracked surface snow is perhaps the most effective warning sign of all and is something to always look out for.

Cracked snow underfoot indicates that the surface beneath has become structurally unsound, with a slab below the top layer that is all set to slide down the mountainside. Does the snow sound hollow? It’s time to bid a hasty retreat and head to safer ground. It is estimated that 90% of all avalanches are triggered by humans. So serious can the consequences be, you should always be on your guard and heed nature’s warning signs.

Rising Water Levels

Rising Water Levels

Image: Shootthedevgru, Wikipedia Commons

With extreme weather conditions becoming commonplace, it’s more important than ever to recognise — and heed — nature’s warning signs. Rising water levels are an obvious clue that something is amiss. Fail to take note and the consequences could be dire.

Those living close to rivers and other major water sources should pay particular attention, especially following heavy rainfall and storms. Keep a close eye on the surface level. Is it much higher than normal?

Be prepared to take action as the banks could burst without warning. This might sound obvious, but not all recognise the dangers and rescue is often required. Don’t want to be that person? If the water has become brown and muddy, don’t delay, with the eroding sediment indicating that trouble might lie ahead. Our best advice? Head to higher ground as soon as possible — and never attempt to drive through flood waters.

Fleeing Animals

Fleeing Animals

Fleeing animals can be a sign that an earthquake is coming. The science behind this is unclear, with researchers still unable to explain the phenomenon. But with multiple accounts that date back to ancient times all coming to the same conclusion, this is one warning sign that it would be unwise to ignore.

Greek historians first recorded rats, weasels and snakes fleeing Helice days before a major quake in 373BC and, although some believe such stories are anecdotal rather than founded in fact, there can be no question that animals do seem to be able to sense seismic activity.

Whether animals can feel vibrations long before humans or whether it is electrical changes that are being detected continues to be debated, with studies in China and Japan ongoing in a bid to improve earthquake detection methods. Major quakes can be devastating indeed, so anecdotal or not, when the animals start to flee, it might just be best to follow.

Hair Standing On End

Hair Standing On End

Hair is standing on end is a classic sign that lightning is about to strike — and close. Caught in a thunderstorm? Be sure to watch out for nature’s warning.

It might sound stranger than fiction, but this does often happen, with the electrical charge in the atmosphere causing hair to stand to attention just prior to the strike itself. Those near water, tall trees or on high ground are in particular danger. Be prepared — it might just save your life.

Lightning strikes kill more people each year than shark attacks, with some victims suffering a cardiac arrest that can prove to be fatal. Of those struck, around 10% die, with 70% suffering significant long-term health effects. Caught in a storm? Seek shelter and, if there is none to be found, crouch down and make yourself as small a target as possible. Your hair is still standing on end? It might be time to start saying your prayers.

Sharks Swimming In Deep Water

Sharks Swimming In Deep Water

Out and about in shark-infested waters? Keep a close eye on the ocean’s inhabitants. Those swimming close to the surface are, as a general rule, quite content.

But should the sharks disappear from sight, diving down to find deeper waters, it might be time to set sail and leave. This is a clear sign from nature that a hurricane is approaching — and a warning that should not be ignored.

It might sound far-fetched, but this is a phenomenon that is rooted in science. Sharks have pores on their bodies — called lateral lines — that are able to sense the change in barometric pressure that accompanies a hurricane or tropical storm.

In addition to a sensitive inner ear that is also tuned into such things, this makes the shark an ideal early-warning system. Sharks depart for the safer waters down below in order to avoid becoming trapped in the shallows or, even worse, beached. Our advice? Follow their lead and depart the area immediately.

Sudden Drop In Sea Level

Sudden Drop In Sea Level

There’s little more terrifying than a tsunami, and receding waters are the first sign of incoming trouble. The risks are greatest around the Pacific Ocean’s so-called Ring of Fire, an unsettled area where tectonic shifts ensure that volcanic eruptions and earthquakes are commonplace.

Such underwater disruption can prove fatal to the unaware on surrounding shores. Take our advice on this: be prepared.

Earthquakes beneath the ocean surface disrupt the water above and can cause devastating tsunamis that wreak havoc on land. The waves that are generated can move at up to 500mph so you’ll need to be quick. Should the ocean level drop suddenly, the best plan is to get to high ground as fast as possible. Planning a trip to the Ring of Fire? Understand the signs — it might just save your life.

Wall Cloud In The Sky

Wall Cloud In The Sky
Image: Brad Smull, NOAA Photo Library/Wikimedia Commons

A wall cloud in the sky is an eerily, beautiful sight but is also an obvious signal of impending danger. Storm chasers might be prepared to take a chance, but those unfamiliar with such extreme weather conditions should seek shelter.

Known also as a murus or pedestal cloud, a wall cloud sits beneath the base of a thunderstorm, with fast-rising air causing pressure to fall and the surrounding skies to darken.

Such an occurrence can often result in a devastating tornado that packs the power to destroy everything that lies in its path. Like to get ahead of the storm? Measuring up to five miles from one end to the other, the wall cloud in the sky is nature’s warning sign, so please do take heed.

Rip Currents

Rip Currents

Rip currents are the number one cause (82%) of lifeguard rescues. Rip currents are fast-moving channels of water which are both dangerous and deadly.

Those who underestimate and swim into rip currents could lose their lives as a result. Innumerable swimmers get into trouble on an annual basis due to not recognising the risks.

Rip currents tend to move out to ocean and away from the shore — with those caught in one often being swept out beyond their depth, far from the reach of rescuers. The warning signs? Look out for seaweed and debris moving out to sea, patches of discoloured water and tell-tale gaps in the lines of the waves. Caught in a rip current? Don’t panic — swim parallel to the shore to escape the current, before heading back inland at an angle.

Also Read: 15 Most Dangerous Bridges in the World