These Natural Disasters Can Occur in Nevada! Are You Prepared?

natural disasters in nevada

Nevada was the 36th state admitted to the union. The word “Nevada” is a derivative of the Spanish word “nieve” which essentially translates to “snow-covered”.

It’s nicknamed the Silver State because of the high deposits of silver which brought in settlers to the region and contributed to the growth of the state’s economy. It’s the seventh-largest state with a low population.

Nearly half of the population lives in Las Vegas. This city alone attracts over 40 million visitors annually and has more than 150,000 hotel rooms— that’s more than any other city in the world!

The Vegas Strip is only 4.2 miles long and is decorated with over 75,000 miles of neon lights.

Nevada boasts over 2,000 miles of streams, more than 44,000 acres of man-made reservoirs, 314 mountain ranges, 23 designated wilderness areas, the largest alpine lake in the United States, grasslands, sandy deserts, canyons, buttes, plateaus, geysers, and hot springs.

It’s extremely diverse and beautiful. Just like all other states, however, there’s a risk of natural disasters.

What natural disasters does Nevada have?

Nevada’s most common natural disasters include wildfires, floods, earthquakes, heatwaves and drought, extreme winter weather, severe storms, landslides, and power outages. 

Between 1953 and 2019, Nevada declared 77 major disasters, of which fires and floods happened the most according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

1. Wildfires

Wildfires are Nevada’s biggest natural disaster concerns. A combination of the state’s weather conditions, terrain, and vegetation make it particularly susceptible to the ignition and spread of high-intensity rapid-moving fires in wilderness areas.

While fires can occur any time of year, Nevada’s fire season begins in May and lasts up until October. The entire Silver State is at risk, however, they occur on an annual basis in the northern part of the state.

There are multiple causes including natural hazards like lightning, and human interference, either by carelessly burning debris, arson, or prescribed fires that have escaped out of control. Droughts are a major contributor as well.

Nevada ranks among the top ten US states when it comes to the number of acres burned. The costs exceed tens of millions of dollars annually but unfortunately, national aid for recovery is lacking.

The largest fire in Nevada’s history was the Martin Fire which occurred in the northern part of the state. It began on July 5, 2018, and ended on July 21.

Over the course of seventeen days, the fire burned a total of 439,230 acres and caused extensive damage which included the destruction of 6 ranches, animal habitats, and grazing land. The intensity of the fire was due to the hot and dry climate and windy conditions.

Based on a collection of data, it appears that fires are growing due to the persisting droughts, warming temperatures, and human behavior. Scientists fear that sometime soon, Nevada may become the epicenter of major wildfire events in the west.

It’s important to do our part when it comes to prevention. During peak wildfire season or vulnerable conditions, do not start fires or burn debris.

Protect your home by creating defensible space, and have an emergency plan with a quick evacuation strategy in case your community is threatened.

Our wildfire preparedness guide is a great resource where you can learn safety tips and mitigation strategies.

2. Floods

Flooding and flash flooding are Nevada's second biggest dangers.

Floods in the state occur as a result of torrential rain, isolated thunderstorms, rapid snow-melt, dam or levee failure, saturated soil, and overflowing rivers and streams.

Since rivers in the state don’t connect to the ocean, flood waters drain into interior lakes, wetland areas, and playas.

General floods occur mostly between October and March when long-duration rainfall causes the snow to melt. Localized flooding occurs most between June and August as a result of cloudburst storms. 

The areas with the highest risk are Carson City and Reno because of the Truckee River, the southern region near Lake Mead, and the Las Vegas area (specifically flash floods).

One of the worst floods in Nevada history was the 1997 New Year’s Flood. Heavy rain and rapidly melting snowpack were the causes of the floods.

Western Nevada received the bulk of the flood damage and Reno’s downtown district was inundated for days. Homes, businesses, warehouses, airports, bridges, and roads were damaged or destroyed. 

The first step in being prepared for a flood is to know your property’s risk level. It’s important to revisit local flood maps periodically because topographical changes and the climate can alter a region’s risk over time.

Then, identify ways to protect your home and mitigate potential property damage. Check out the National Flood Insurance Program to see which insurance options are available to you. 

Finally, learn how to stay safe during such events. In the event of a flood, get to higher ground immediately and never attempt to cross flood waters. 

Check out this flood preparedness guide for more information.

3. Earthquakes

Nevada is one of the most seismically active states in the US. 

Geologists have discovered more than 1,500 active faults, of which at least 30 have the potential to devastate the Carson City / Reno area. Las Vegas sits atop an active area with a number fault lines. 

In terms of the seismic activity and frequency of large earthquakes over the past 150 years, Nevada ranks third, just behind California and Alaska.

Every 30 years or so, the Silver State experiences powerful earthquakes with a magnitude 7.0 or higher, however, the last one occurred in 1954. Scientists estimate the likelihood of a 6.5 magnitude or greater earthquake happening in the next 50 years is 50% to 60%.

The largest earthquake in Nevada’s recorded history happened on October 2, 1915, in Pleasant Valley. It was a magnitude 7.3 quake that rattled the state in all directions and was followed by a series of aftershocks. Widespread damage was reported, including cracked, damaged, or destroyed infrastructure, as well as the displacement of homes from their foundations.

More recently, on February 21, 2008, a magnitude 6.0 shaker rattled the state near the Elko County of Wells. All of the town’s residential homes experienced minor to extreme damage but luckily no serious injuries were reported. This event caused $10.5 million in damages.

If a shaker of this magnitude were to occur in Las Vegas or the Carson City / Reno area, the damages would be exponentially higher.

There’s no doubt that residents of the Silver State should be prepared for an earthquake.

There are ways to mitigate the chance of earthquake damage done to your property and personal belongings. Some ideas include following the local building codes and securing items like bookshelves, TVs, computers, and other valuables to the wall.

In this guide, you can learn about our best mitigation strategies as well as safety tips.

4. Extreme Heat & Drought

Extreme heat can affect all parts of Nevada, however, the southern region is the most vulnerable. All counties within the state have experienced triple-digit temperatures, primarily during July which is the hottest month.

Luckily, the dry desert climate minimizes the heat stress on the body since the climate has low levels of humidity. The hottest temperature on record was 125°F in Laughlin on June 29, 1994.

Heat waves are the number one killer when it comes to weather-related deaths. The heat wave of 2005 resulted in the loss of life of 17 people and became Nevada’s deadliest disaster in recorded history.

Nevada gets very little rain (its average rainfall is 7 inches per year), therefore there’s a medium to a significant risk of drought.

Prologued periods of drought can cause major devastation, including a shortage of drinking water, the loss of wildlife and livestock, crop failures, dust storms, insect infestations, and increased intensity of wildfires.

As of the writing of this article, nearly 41% of the Silver State is under exceptional drought, 36% is under extreme drought, 19% is under severe drought, and the remainder 5% is under moderate drought.

High temperature mixed with drought can be deadly and long-lasting, especially in Nevada where much of the state is made up of desert land and there is little precipitation.

Our bodies are susceptible to heat-related illnesses, so it’s recommended to learn the symptoms so that you or a loved one can get help before it’s too late.

It’s important to note that pets and wild animals are also at risk of heat illness. Read our heat wave preparedness guide to learn mitigation strategies that will lessen the effects of extreme heat.

Also, during periods of drought be extra water-conscious and conserve as much as possible.

5. Winter Storms

Winter storms, like mild blizzards, freezing rain, and significant amounts of snowfall, are yearly events in Nevada’s higher elevations during the winter months.

They’re a lesser concern in lower elevations, but they are possible natural disasters nonetheless. Avalanches are low risk but they tend to occur in the Ruby Mountains, Lee Canyon, and around Tahoe.

For the most part, Nevada is well-equipped to handle bad weather. Their robust transportation system, building codes, and local and state jurisdictions are prepared to respond during winter events. Only when the snow and/or winter rain accumulations become severe, do they require external assistance.

One of the worst storms in recent history occurred on February 25, 2011, in the Reno-Carson City area. A combination of 18 inches of snow with 50 mph winds caused multiple car accidents, at least 25 downed power lines, 2 injuries, and a quarter-million dollars in damages.

Severe winter storms are considered a medium hazard in the Silver State. If you live near mountainous areas, it’s necessary to become prepared. Commuters should always carry an emergency kit with a first aid kit in their vehicle in the event of a weather-related accident.

Also, have supplies at home that will keep your home and family members safe, and consider the possibility of a long-term power outage. Check out this winter preparedness guide for more information.

6. Severe Storms

Spring, summer, and fall temperatures create a climate that is ideal for storms, including cloudbursts, strong gusty winds, monsoons, thunderstorms, lightning, dust storms, and rarely tornadoes and hail storms. The entire state is susceptible.

Cloudburst storms occur between June, July, and August. Thunderstorms occur from spring to fall, however, the most dangerous ones happen during the summer because the lightning potential is high and humidity is low.

High winds occur any time of year but the most severe events occur between the winter and spring months.

One of the worst dust storms occurred in June 2013 near Winnemucca. It was described as ‘apocalyptic’. Visibility was reduced to zero, which as a result caused a 27-vehicle pileup in which multiple people were injured.

During times of severe weather and summer monsoon season, be sure to stay tuned to the local news and pay attention to any warnings from the National Weather Service.

A single lightning strike can travel more than 10 miles outside of a storm, windstorms can cause extremely hazardous travel, and heavy or persistent precipitation can cause severe damage from floods and flash floods. 

Nevada averages 2 tornadoes a year. This number is well below the national average however they're a threat on occasion. Apart from high winds, the risk of tornado damage includes everything in its path being turned into dangerous projectiles. In a short amount of time, the damage could become severe.

In this severe storm preparedness guide, you can learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones and how to stay safe.

7. Landslides

Although landslides are considered a low-risk hazard in Nevada, they occur periodically. Rockslides are the most common type of landslides in the Silver State.

They happen as a result of major storms, floods, erosion, burn scars, rapid snow and ice melt, earthquakes, and construction.

The southern part of the state is more vulnerable due to the presence of groundwater extraction and the destabilization of the ground.

A few significant landslides have occurred throughout the state, for example:

  • The Slide Mountain Landslide of 1983: The eastern slope of Slide Mountain, southwest of Reno in the Sierra Nevada, gave way and caused a debris flow that damaged and destroyed homes, infrastructure, the US Highway 395, and smaller roads. There was at least one fatality, multiple severe injuries, and at least $2 million in damage.

  • The Flood of 1997 caused extensive debris flows and mudslides in the mountain areas. Twelve miles of US Highway 395 were washed out near the West Walker River.

If you live in a mountainous area, be aware of landslides, rockslides, and debris flow. Although few people live in rocky or steep terrain, it’s important to identify alternative routes in your community in case one of them becomes blocked or destroyed.

In our guide, we discuss mitigation strategies to consider for your home and property, as well as landslide safety tips.

8. Power Outages

Power outages can happen with or without the presence of a natural disaster. Our electrical systems are so vulnerable that they can trip or malfunction as a result of a manmade error, severe weather, and times of high demand.

Nevada has experienced a few significant power outages, including.

  • The West Coast Blackout of 1982: On December 22, 1982, a strong wind storm knocked out a transmission tower that caused several other towers to trip as well. The backup systems were not equipped to handle such a mass system error, therefore they too failed. An estimated 2 million homes and businesses were left in the dark throughout California and Nevada.

  • The Winter Storm of 1996: A three-day severe storm brought record levels of snowfall throughout the northwestern region of Nevada and beyond. Roads became impassable, there were multiple vehicle crashes, and over 16,000 homes lost power. Luckily, no one was reported hurt or killed.

Power outages are not only inconvenient, but when they last longer than a couple of hours, they can become dangerous and possibly even deadly. Imagine having to live without electricity while also having to adapt to the effects of a major natural disaster.

Having a plan and setting aside emergency supplies will make your life much easier! In this guide, we discuss our top recommended items to have in your emergency kits. At the end of the article, there’s a checklist that you can print and keep with your supplies for future use.

9. Volcanoes

Nevada is home to 9 volcanoes, all of which are either dormant or extinct. The risk of volcanoes in the state is not an eruption but rather volcanic ash from eruptions in California in Oregon that could blow into Nevada and cause damage to flying aircraft.

Volcanic activity within the state includes volcanic fields with steam vents, hot springs, fumaroles, hydrothermal and geothermal activity. The most touristic and popular place perhaps is Steamboat Springs. While it hasn’t experienced an eruption during the Holocene Era, it’s considered active because of the underground activity.

Natural disaster resources for Nevada

When it comes to natural disasters, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Be sure to check out the following resources to help you become fully equipped for any natural disaster that can occur in Nevada. 

  • In order to stay in touch with hazardous weather and developing storms in your region, it would be a good idea to download the NOAA Weather Radio App.

    Keep your phone charged and enable emergency notifications to come through any time of day, so that you won’t miss any updates!

  • Disasters are complex and there’s a lot to consider when it comes to making our preparedness plans. What can you do to prevent damage?

    What do you need to do to stay safe during and after? Which items do you need to store with your emergency supplies? All of these questions (and more!) have been answered for you in each of our disaster guides right here. Be sure to download and print the free checklists at the end!

  • Learning about emergency preparedness on paper (or online) is amazing, and highly recommended. But we also like to emphasize the importance of practicing what you learned in writing.

    The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is an organization that provides free training where you can get the hands-on experience of preparedness. Classes are taught by law enforcement professionals in your area. Find your local CERT here. 

  • Natural disasters can cause destruction beyond what the eye can see. In an instant, people’s belongings, livelihoods, homes, and everything they’ve found their comfort in can be swiped away. 

    Nevada’s Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) works to bridge the gap between the immediate needs of the public with external resources. If you own a business or are part of an organization that can provide assistance to communities in need post-disaster, consider signing up with Nevada VOAD.

    Another organization worth mentioning is the American Red Cross. They provide immediate assistance to meet the individual needs of communities that have been affected by a disaster. 

  • Getting help after a disaster has occurred may be different in each state and depending on the nature of the event. For the state of Nevada, you can contact the Division of Emergency Management for more information.

I hope you enjoyed learning about natural disasters in Nevada.

We created an in-depth resource with guides, templates, and checklists that will allow you to customize your emergency plan according to your specific needs. Click here to get started!

Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!

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