What is a natural disaster for kids?

Updated February 21, 2017

Natural disasters are natural (as opposed to man-made) events that kill people or damage property or the environment. There are many different kinds of natural disasters, some of which are common and others of which only happen occasionally.


Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, violent storms and volcanoes are all natural events that can destroy buildings and kill people and animals.


The ground we walk on is the surface of Earth's outermost layer, or crust. Some of the worst natural disasters are caused by the hot molten rock that lies miles deep below the surface of the crust. If this molten rock, or magma, makes its way to the surface and pressure builds up, it can burst outwards in a volcanic eruption. Earthquakes are also caused by the slow motion of giant pieces of crust called tectonic plates. If they are big enough and happen at sea, earthquakes can trigger giant waves called tsunamis that can reach as much as 100 feet high. Tornadoes, violent storms and hurricanes are more common than earthquakes or volcanic eruptions; they are all natural disasters caused by the weather. Wildfires are another kind of natural disaster that can be caused by lightning strikes, especially during a drought when there hasn't been enough rain.


Some kinds of disasters are more common in some places than in others; cities near fault lines, for example, are at more danger from earthquakes, while homes in river valleys may be in more danger from flooding. There isn't any way to avoid natural disasters, but knowing what kinds of disasters are most likely where you live and learning what to do if a disaster happens can help you stay safe.

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About the Author

Based in San Diego, John Brennan has been writing about science and the environment since 2006. His articles have appeared in "Plenty," "San Diego Reader," "Santa Barbara Independent" and "East Bay Monthly." Brennan holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.