Staying safe when there's a natural disaster
A disaster can happen anywhere, anytime. However, some destinations experience certain types of natural disasters more often.
Before you go, find out what natural disasters are common in your destination. Know what you can do to be prepared. This helps reduce the impact on your health, safety and finances.
Explore this page to learn the basics about:
- cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons
- landslides and mudslides
- severe weather
- tornadoes (twisters)
- volcanic eruptions
Cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons
Cyclones, also called hurricanes or typhoons in some regions, are a type of severe weather incident. They form over oceans near the equator, in tropical climates.
- torrential rain
- storm surges
- winds up to 300 km/h
Before you go to a tropical coastal destination, check if it experiences cyclones. If so, find out when.
Read our travel advice for your destination. If cyclones are common there, we mention it under the 'Natural disasters' heading.
Also see our advice about severe weather.
Earthquakes are common in some destinations. Especially regions with a lot of geological activity.
Minor tremors, under a magnitude of 4.0, are very common around the world. These usually have minimal impact on people and property.
Extreme shaking from major earthquakes, especially above a magnitude of 6.0, can:
- generate tsunamis
- cause landslides and mudslides
- collapse buildings
- break gas and water lines, underground and in buildings
- knock down electricity lines
Read our travel advice for your destination. If earthquakes are common there, we mention it under the 'Natural disasters' heading.
Also see our advice about earthquakes and tsunamis.
Many destinations experience severe rain and seasonal flooding. Especially those that experience monsoons, or have a wet season.
Types and causes of flooding
- Flash floods. From heavy rains, overflowing/burst dams or rapidly melting snow.
- River floods. Often from seasonal/monsoon rains.
- Coastal floods. From tsunamis, storm surges and severe weather events such as cyclones.
Before you go, read our travel advisory for your destination. If flooding is common there, we mention it under the 'Natural disasters' heading.
Preparing for seasonal floods before you go
- Find out when. The timing of the monsoon or rainy season is fairly consistent each year. It's generally in the warmer months in tropical climates. Check when it is.
- Find out where. In some destinations, the risk of severe rain or flooding is only in some regions. This is usually in low-lying locations near the coast, or by rivers and lakes.
- Choose accommodation wisely. Make sure you don't book accommodation in a low-lying area that's at high risk of flooding. Especially on the ground floor. Before you book, check the address on a map. If it's in the flood zone, go elsewhere.
- Be prepared. Pack appropriate supplies for wet weather. Not just wet weather clothing and dry bags, but also water purifiers. In flooding, water and sanitation problems lead to waterborne infectious diseases, including cholera.
- Check insurance. Make sure your travel insurance policy covers you for changes or cancellations if there's a flood before you go. Also check it covers you if there's a flood while you're away.
- Protect your passport. If water damages your passport, you can't use it. You'll need a replacement. Keep it dry. Consider a waterproof bag for it.
- Know what to do. Find out what do if there's a flood while you're there, and where to get help if you need it.
Learn more about preparing for a flood from authorities in your destination.
Landslides and avalanches
Landslides, mudslides and avalanches occur when the side of a slope gives way and rock, earth, mud, snow or debris moves downward.
Destinations where landslides are common
Mountainous areas that experience heavy rain are more likely to experience landslides.
Property damage, injuries and death can be greater in developing countries. Often, this is due to poor building standards and regulations, and deforestation.
Key causes of landslides and avalanches
- Heavy rain. Severe weather can turn topsoil to mud, and flush it downward.
- Earthquakes. Even a small earthquake can dislodge the side of a hill.
- Severe winter weather. Excessive snow falls can lead to avalanches. The added weight, combined with a weak bond between old and new snow, increase the risk.
- Volcanic activity. The rumbling or explosion can dislodge the topsoil, similar to an earthquake. Volcanoes can also spew volcanic mud, which may carry toxic gases.
- Deforestation. Without enough tree roots to hold the soil or snow in place, the surface is more likely to give way.
Key impacts of landslides and avalanches
- Travel problems. Mud, earth and other debris may cover the road or runway. This may stop you from flying in, getting around and getting out.
- Injury. Fast or slow moving debris could injure you. It could also trap you in a building or a car.
- Death. If you get caught under a mudslide or landslide or avalanche, you could suffocate and die. An undersea landslide can cause a tsunami. You could drown if you're by the coast.
Avoiding and preparing for landslides or avalanches
- Research your destination. Find out if and where landslides or avalanches are common.
- Get travel insurance. Check if your travel insurance covers you for natural disasters like landslides and avalanches. If you're planning to ski or snowboard off-piste, make sure you're covered outside the resort. You may need a specialised policy.
- Check for deforestation. If steep slopes nearby are bare, the land or snow may give way. This is even more likely in an earthquake zone or during severe weather.
- Stay on-piste. If you're skiing or snowboarding, the avalanche risk is usually much lower in the resort, compared to the back country. If you do go off-piste, go with a group. Take an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), and other avalanche safety gear.
- Wait for fresh snow to settle. After a heavy snowfall, avoid steep slopes covered in fresh snow. It usually takes 24-48 hours for the layer of fresh snow to bond to the old.
Before you go, read our travel advisory for your destination. Also see our advice about severe weather, earthquakes and cyclones.
Severe winter weather
Severe winter weather is a serious risk in some destinations. If you're not prepared, you're at risk of injury, frostbite and hypothermia.
If you're travelling somewhere that experiences severe weather, be informed and prepared. Know how to stay safe, avoid danger and what to do during a severe weather incident.
Tornadoes, also called 'twisters', are common across the world. With wind speeds that can approach 400 km/h, tornadoes are one of the most powerful and destructive natural disasters.
The most frequent and destructive tornadoes occur in the United States. Specifically, in 'Tornado Alley'. However, many other countries experience them as well.
If you're going to any destination that experiences tornadoes, be prepared. Find out where and when they're likely, and know what to do if one approaches.
Before you go, read our travel advisory for your destination. Also see our information advice about cyclones and tornadoes.
A tsunami is a large wave and temporary rise in sea level. They're caused by strong and sudden movement in the ocean. This usually happens when there's an undersea earthquake, landslide or volcanic eruption.
This means areas at greatest risk are those where earthquakes and volcanoes are common.
While tsunamis start in the ocean, the impact is more profound on land. The massive surge of water can travel with great force at high speeds through low-lying coastal communities.
They also affect the safety people on cruises or travelling by boat.
Learn more about the basics of tsunamis (Geoscience Australia).
A volcano is a vent between the earth's surface and the layer of molten rock deep below. A volcanic eruption is when that vent opens up and spews lava, gases and debris above ground.
Learn more about the basics of volcanoes (Geoscience Australia).
Reducing risks from volcanic eruptions
- Do your research. Find out if your destination has a lot of volcanic activity.
- Get travel insurance. See if your insurance covers you for delays or cancellations if there's volcanic activity, or volcanic ash clouds. Also, find out if you're covered for this kind of natural disaster if it happens while you're away.
- Keep a safe distance. If you plan to hike to the top of an active volcano, know the risks. Stay well away from the edge. Lava is only one threat. Invisible toxic gases can lead to respiratory collapse and death.
- Before you go, do your research. Read our travel advisory for your destination.
- See our advice about severe weather, earthquakes and tsunamis.
- Understand how and when we may help. Before you go, read the Consular Service Charter.
- Read the United Nations' information about natural disasters (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, UNDRR).
- See the Tropical Cyclone Knowledge Centre, and the Australian Tsunami Warning System (Bureau of Meteorology, BOM).
- Read about earthquakes, floods, severe wind, volcanoes and tsunamis (Geoscience Australia).
- See global severe weather observations and warnings (World Meteorological Organization, WMO).
- See current natural disaster alerts around the world Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System, GDACS).
- See advice on preparing for natural disasters (NZ Government).
- See information and advice on emergency and disaster preparedness (US Government).
Cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, monsoons and tornadoes are serious risks in some destinations. In others, it's severe winter weather you need to prepare for.
Find out what to do if you're travelling overseas and a volcano has erupted in or near your location. Learn how and where to get help.