Using the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards, the type of natural disaster that is relevant to Pittsburgh, PA is an Extratropical Storm. The Nathan Map is not an extremely detailed reference to use for assessing the specific risk extratropical storms and other natural disasters pose for Pittsburgh, but the risk shown on the map and designated by green bands of different shades does include Pittsburgh. Furthermore, when under La Niña conditions, the likelihood of storms affecting Pittsburgh and vicinity rise. Other types of disasters that have shown to potentially affect Pittsburgh are tornadoes. Again, the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards shows a basic risk of tornadoes for Pittsburgh but getting a specific reading on the level of the risk is difficult given the scope of the map.
A type of disaster in progress is a tornado in Eldridge, AL. Pittsburgh is at risk of tornadoes as multiple reports of damage from the disaster have been reported within my lifetime. The risk, however, is lower in Pittsburgh than it is in other regions of the country. Given the nature of tornadoes and the weather conditions that create them, areas closer to common paths of extreme tropical weather systems, along with lower plains states, are at a much higher risk. The current tornado in Alabama compares to Pittsburgh in a few ways. First, the size of the area affected by the tornado is not a condition that influences whether or not Pittsburgh or any other place is more or less likely to experience the event. Second, Alabama is much closer to the Gulf of Mexico where weather systems fueled by warm Gulf water are more common and stronger than systems that reach the Midwest and western Pennsylvania. Those at greatest risk of damage of a tornado in Pittsburgh include residents in mobile homes or homes without subterranean levels.
Both types of natural disasters listed above are rare. Extratropical storms are the more common of the two as Pittsburgh is situated in a path of common Atlantic Ocean weather systems that travel from the south and into New England. The risk of systems strong enough to produce extratropical storms depends on both the strength of the system (gained by the temperature of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico) and the track the storm travels as it curves through the region. Systems originating in the Great Lakes region are more common and depend on different factors. Also, Lake-born snowstorms may carry heavy amounts of precipitation but do not have the characteristics of wind speed to rival extratropical storms. Tornadoes are rarer, still. There is not a specific set of conditions that makes the likelihood of a tornado greater or reduced but the prevailing conditions that lead to tornadoes are not often visited upon Pittsburgh. The 1985 tornado outbreak was a particularly devastating event. The National Weather Service ranked it as the 12th most significant tornado event of all time (Carpenter, 2005).
Actions that can be taken to reduce the vulnerability of extratropical storms include pre-event preparedness measures that include warning systems and methods for delivering forecasts to residents as far in advance as possible. Emergency response systems are also vital in reducing Pittsburgh’s vulnerability. For tornadoes, a reliable system for identifying and warning residents of tornado sightings is important to withstanding an event that can be deadly. Accurate information including the location, severity (magnitude), and path of a tornado are valuable facets of the type of information emergency response organizations can deliver to residents to ensure the best opportunities for seeking safe haven. Personally, to prepare for either event and reduce my family’s vulnerability against these and other natural disasters, having a plan in place is key. Understanding the potential consequences of each potential event, where to go for assistance, and what steps are most likely to keep us safe until aid can arrive are the most important steps in being prepared should disaster strike.
Carpenter, M. (2005). The day the twisters came. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.post-gazette.com/frontpage/2005/05/29/The-day-the-twisters-came/stories/200505290193