New Hampshire’s history can be traced way back to colonial times. It was the first of the 13 colonies to declare its independence from England. Talk about bold! It’s no surprise that their state motto is “Live free OR DIE.”
New Hampshire, also known as the Granite State, is the 5th smallest US state, the 10th least populous, and has the shortest coastline (18 miles) of any US coastal state. It boasts small, picturesque towns with vast wilderness and some of the best hiking trails in the region.
Famous for its covered bridges, scenic highways (the Kanc), unbelievable autumn colors, and majestic sunrises, New Hampshire has a tranquil beauty that cannot compare to anything you’ve ever seen.
Granite Staters are proud of where they come from, their lifestyle, and the freedoms they enjoy. They’re very welcoming people, but you can expect to be called a “flatlandah” if you’re from out-of-state. Foreigners can be picked out easily if they don’t speak with the New Hampshire accent or if they don’t have a “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker.
Natural hazards affect New Hampshire like all the other states. In this article, we’ll discuss which disasters its most prone to.
What natural disasters does New Hampshire have?
New Hampshire’s most common natural disasters include severe storms, floods, winter storms, hurricanes, nor’easters, wildfires, landslides, and power outages. Other less significant disasters include earthquakes and tornadoes.
Between 1953 and 2019, New Hampshire declared 52 major disasters, of which severe storms and floods happened the most according to FEMA.
1. Severe Storms
Severe storms are one of New Hampshire’s main weather hazards. These storms come in the form of heavy rain, strong gusty winds, lightning, and occasional hail.
One of the worst storms in the state’s recent history was the wind storm of March 2010. The winds destroyed forests, personal property (cars and homes), and caused widespread power outages. The overall damage was estimated to be over $7 million (2010 USD).
One should not underestimate the power of lightning and thunderstorms. New Hampshire has 8 recorded lightning-related fatalities between 1959-2016, and while that number is relatively low, it doesn’t mean people are exempt from getting hurt, but rather people are taking the appropriate preventative methods to stay safe.
To prevent getting injured, you should take cover indoors if you hear thunder or see lightning. During the storm, avoid being too close to a window, taking a shower, or touching anything that is connected to a power source, such as a landline telephone. Although it may come as a surprise to many, it’s true that lightning can strike a person even if they’re indoors.
Everyone in New Hampshire lives in a flood zone. With that said, the risks range from high to moderate to low. Its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean (other than the short 18.57 miles of coastline) makes it prone to heavy precipitation (think tropical storms, hurricanes, nor’easters) and coastal surges.
One of the worst floods ever experienced in the Granite State was the Mother’s Day Flood of May 2006. Days of significant rainfall (totaling approximately 15 inches of water) caused rivers to overflow and entire towns to flood. The Merrimack River crested more than six feet above the flood level. Some homes were submerged up to their roofs and thousands of people were evacuated— many evacuated via canoe because their cars were submerged too.
Becoming prepared for a flood requires that you know your risk level. I recommend looking at your local flood maps as a start, but also keep in mind that even low-risk areas may become vulnerable over time due to topographical changes and the effects of previous natural disasters.
After you’ve assessed the risk of your region, determine which mitigation strategies will help protect your home in the event of a local or regional flood. Check out this guide for a complete list of mitigation suggestions.
Finally, know what to do in the event that a flood occurs in your community. Have an evacuation plan and all the necessary supplies to get what you need and get to safety as soon as possible.
3. Winter Storms
With average winter temperatures ranging from 15°F to -4°F, it’s no surprise that New Hampshire experiences harsh winters (and storms — you can expect to receive an average of 68 inches of snow per year!) But according to the Free State Project, the Granite State is warmer than or within five degrees of 24 other US states, so let’s just say the winter temps are bearable…that is, if you’re not from Texas, Hawaii, or Florida.
One of the most memorable snowstorms in the state’s history was the blizzard of February 1978. The heavy snowfall, mixed with 83 mph winds lingered over New Hampshire for over a day and caused snowdrifts of up to 10 feet, roads to shut down for a week, and extensive damage along the coast due to the sea rising more than 14 feet above normal.
Cold rain and ice storms sometimes also occur during the winter months. One of the most severe ice storms in recent history happened in December 2008. As beautiful as the frozen scenery was, it caused over 400,000 power outages state-wide, broken trees and scattered debris, 5 fatalities, and between $2.5 to 3.7 billion (2008 USD) in damages.
Prepare for a winter storm long before the winter season arrives. In the event of an ice storm, blizzard, or intense snowfall, you should expect power outages. In other words, have alternative means of heating your home and different methods of preparing your food available.
Try to postpone any unnecessary travel during a winter storm, but if for some reason you can’t, have a fully stocked winter emergency kit within reach in your vehicle. To learn more about staying safe during extremely cold temperatures and winter storms, read this guide.
4. Coastal Storms
There’s a very low chance that a tsunami will occur in New Hampshire, however, even with its short Atlantic coastline, the Granite State is no stranger to nor’easters and storm surge.
Nor’easters generally happen between September and April. One of the worst nor’easters in New Hampshire’s recent history occurred in April 2007. It brought heavy precipitation and gusty winds, leaving businesses and homes flooded, people stranded by the terrible road conditions, and led to the development of tornadoes in other states.
In order to become prepared for a coastal storm, know your flood risk level, have a plan for power outages, and be prepared for cold weather— and possibly snow too. Be sure to have a family plan in which you’ve outlined an evacuation plan in the event that the storm is severe enough that you’re unable to shelter at home.
5. Tropical Storms and Hurricanes
Hurricanes don’t reach New England often, but the effects are usually devastating when they do. Some of the worst hurricanes to affect the Granite State were Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.
As soon as Hurricane Irene made landfall in 2011, it weakened to a tropical storm, however, the effects were extremely destructive and deadly. The combination of high levels of precipitation mixed with strong winds caused homes, businesses, roads, and rivers to flood (and overflow). Although Vermont absorbed much of the punch, its neighboring state of New Hampshire accumulated over $21 million (2011 USD) worth of damages.
A little over a year later, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast. New Hampshire experienced strong winds measuring between 40 and 70 mph on average, but with gusts of up to 140 mph. The winds destroyed trees, homes and infrastructure, power lines (leaving 200,000 people without electricity).
There’s no stopping the powerful force of a hurricane, but there are several things you can do to become prepared. You will definitely want to consider boarding up your windows or installing shutters to mitigate possible wind and water damage.
As for personal safety, you should prepare a plan now that can be put into action the moment a hurricane is forecasted. Your plan should include food and water provisions for your family, emergency items like a first aid kit, a family communication plan, and a local map with evacuation routes. Rehearse your plan before a hurricane occurs.
Nearly 90% of wildfires in New Hampshire are started by humans— the remaining 10% is primarily linked to natural causes like lightning strikes. There are an average of 175 wildfires in the state each year which account for a total of 225 acres. That doesn’t sound like much when compared to other states, however, let’s not forget history.
The largest fire in New Hampshire’s recorded history was the Great Marlow-Stoddard Fire of April 1941. Due to an excessive amount of timber and dry brush, sawmills were placed throughout the forests to do some tree cleanup. One of the mills caught on fire, and the fire rapidly swept through the forest, igniting everything in its path. In a matter of only two days, the fire consumed 27,000 acres and many homes. Luckily, rain and snow helped the 2,000-person crew tame the fire until it was put out.
Fires are undeniably powerful, which is why having a preparedness plan is crucial for the sake of our personal property and our peace of mind. To become prepared for a wildfire, you should create space between dry brush or tree branches that are too close to your home. Also, move firewood or logs a safe distance away from your home. Learn all of our wildfire mitigation suggestions here.
Apart from mitigating damage within the boundaries of your property, be sure to have a rapid evacuation plan. If your area is under a mandatory evacuation warning, get to a safe location as soon as possible. If you're under a voluntary warning, begin making preparations to evacuate. Learn the step-by-step of making an evacuation plan here!
Unstable soil and steep slopes make the perfect recipe for a landslide. There are 1,786 mountains throughout New Hampshire, so as you can imagine, landslides are natural threats that we must prepare for.
Deadly landslides haven’t occurred in the state since the 19th century, however, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences, seven major slides have occurred in the 20th century. The White Mountains are known to experience many.
Landslides can wipe out entire communities and roads. They can happen with little to no warning but are often triggered by a preceding event, such as heavy periods of rainfall, weak soil, earthquakes, and construction on the side of vulnerable mountains.
Knowing your local risk is the first step in becoming prepared for a landslide. While your home may not be directly affected, you should also consider the risk level of the roads and infrastructure in your community. Do you know alternative ways to get around your city if one road gets washed away or covered in rocks and debris?
Learn how to prepare for these types of circumstances by reading this complete guide on landslide preparedness.
8. Power Outages
Power outages affect everyone regardless of where you live. Short-term outages may become only a minor inconvenience but the truth is that the electric grid is vulnerable to all types of natural disasters, so we must anticipate long-term outages also.
Granite Staters have experienced several severe outages, such as the 2008 ice storm that left over 400,000 residents in the dark (not to mention, cold). During that storm, some people spent two weeks or more without electricity.
Events like those don’t just leave you in the dark, but they leave you having to deal with the effects of the disaster, which could be flooding, no running water, the inability to cook food as you’re used to, and possibly freezing temperatures (as was the case during the 2008 ice storm).
Consider the implications that a long-term outage could have on your family, your livelihood, your job, and your community. Check out this guide to learn how to become prepared for an outage.
There are no major fault lines (nor active ones) in the Granite State, however, it is believed that New Hampshire and Massachusetts lie in the middle of a tectonic plate. The last significant quakes to affect the state occurred in 1638 (which had a magnitude of 6.5) and 1940 (which had a magnitude of 5).
Earthquakes are difficult to predict but the main vulnerability in the state is that the buildings are not structurally sound to withstand a strong shaker. With the growing population and expansion of infrastructure, the results of an earthquake in our lifetime could be detrimental.
Earthquake preparedness begins by identifying items that can fall or collapse and break during a shaker. Secure heavy items to the walls, move breakable items to lower shelves, and prepare an emergency kit for each person in your family to ensure you're ready. Keep close-toed shoes under the bed, as well as a flashlight, and other important items that you may need should an earthquake occur while you're sleeping.
Tornadoes are extremely rare in New Hampshire. On average, only one occurs each year around the summer months. Microbursts and waterspouts (a tornado moving over water) can also occur, but just like tornadoes, they're rare.
Even though tornado activity in the state is low, you can learn mitigation and safety tips here.
Natural disaster resources for New Hampshire
Disasters occur in every state. Luckily, there are plenty of resources to look into and take advantage of in the Granite State. These are a few suggestions:
- Stay up to date with current and developing weather alerts by downloading the NOAA Weather App. Keep your phone charged to receive updates in real-time and be sure to allow notifications to come through during the night, in case an important update is sent while you're sleeping.
- Become prepared for all types of disasters, at least to the point that you have the basic knowledge of how to stay safe in the midst of them. Our disaster guides are complete with mitigation strategies and safety tips, as well as downloadable checklists that you can print and keep with your emergency supplies.
- Learning preparedness techniques on paper can be difficult, but some people prefer in-person training (I know I do!) If you're looking to meet like-minded people and get trained by law enforcement professionals, be sure to check out your local Community Emergency Preparedness Team (CERT).
- If you want to help support disaster relief efforts within your state, be sure to look into New Hampshire's VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters). This organization brings together the local community to determine the needs following a disaster. Those who are on their list may be called to help in such times.
- For more information on emergency preparedness and recovery in the state of New Hampshire, please visit the NH Office of Emergency Management.
I hope you enjoyed learning about New Hampshire’s most common disasters.
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Want to look up another state? Find out which disasters are likely to happen in other parts of the United States here!