Natural Disasters in Florida: What To Expect

Natural disasters are just a fact of life no matter where you live, and Florida is no different. But unlike most other states most of the danger comes from severe storm systems alone: in the Sunshine State that means hurricanes, tropical storms, tornadoes and associated effects.

flag of florida

That being said, you’ll still have more to worry about than when the wind starts blowing in Florida.

Oppressive heat is definitely a problem, as is flooding even from mundane weather systems, lightning strikes, and the occasional sinkhole that can swallow your house.

Florida is a wild and weird place, and the weather reflects that. I’ll tell you everything you need to know here.


Florida is a high-risk state in terms of natural disaster vulnerability, period. Most of your worries in the state are going to come from wind and rain in varying intensities, and all of the bad things that will result from getting too much of both. I’m referring of course to Florida’s most iconic natural disaster, the hurricane.

Hurricanes have been an issue in Florida and other coastal states since pretty much forever, and there are no signs of that ending in the near future.

Hurricanes are some the most powerful storms on Earth, capable of producing sustained winds that can level buildings, dumping multiple feet of water in the form of rain, spawning tornadoes, and unleashing devastating storm surges.

And you don’t have to deal with a proper hurricane to get your ass handed to you in Florida: tropical storms can be plenty destructive on their own.

Aside from that, dangerous heat and humidity, are always a major factor, and heat in conjunction with drought makes wildfires another serious and constant concern for the state.

Perhaps most worryingly for some folks is the presence of sinkholes… Sinkholes are exactly what they sound like, huge tracks of unstable land that can suddenly collapse.

Small ones can destabilize buildings and cause foundation damage. Large ones can swallow entire buildings or even portions of neighborhoods. Scary stuff!

Hurricane Ian strikes Florida

1. Hurricanes

Hurricanes are massive tropical storms that form over warm ocean waters. They’re infamously and rightly known for their strong winds, torrential rain, and potential for destruction.

Florida, being a peninsula surrounded by warm waters on all sides, is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes.

In fact, the Sunshine State has experienced some of the most devastating hurricanes in history, such as Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Don’t listen to the old salts that live in Florida, the ones who don’t get out of bed for anything less than a Cat. 4: I lived in Florida for over a decade on the Gulf Coast, and I can tell you officially that hurricanes are no cause for partying!

These storms invariably cause widespread power outages, flooding, storm surge, and even loss of life.

In order to minimize the risks from hurricanes, it’s essential for all Floridians, and visitors, to stay informed about storm forecasts and evacuation orders.

They should also have an emergency plan in place, including a stocked disaster supply kit, and intricate knowledge of the nearest evacuation routes.

Tropical Storm Nicole's impact on Florida's east coast

2. Tropical Storms

A tropical storm is less intense than a hurricane, and is either a less serious storm system overall or merely the birthing stage of a proper hurricane.

Nonetheless, it can still have a significant impact anywhere in the state and beyond.

These storms, like their bigger “brothers” bring heavy rainfall, strong winds, and the potential for flooding.

While they may not cause the same level of destruction as hurricanes, typically, tropical storms can still disrupt daily life and result in millions in property damage.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of tropical storm systems affecting Florida and other parts of the United States.

This trend has been attributed to both natural climate variability and human-induced climate change, but all you need to know is that the future forecast is looking rough indeed!

Just like dealing with hurricanes, have a kit, have a plan and be ready to evacuate or ride out a rough one with no power or water.

Tornado with 130 mph winds flips cars and damages homes in Florida

3. Tornadoes

Everyone knows what tornadoes are, but what you might not know is that Florida sees lots of them every year, both ones that spawn from “common” storms and ones that are spawned en masse from hurricanes and tropical storms.

These monster storms almost act like a “mothership” for the smaller, but still incredibly destructive, tornadoes!

While they can indeed occur anywhere in the United States, Florida is particularly susceptible due to its warm, humid climate and frequent thunderstorms.

Though tornadoes in Florida tend to be less severe overall than those in other parts of the country, they can still flatten your home and kill you dead, and in conjunction with a larger storm system will make a bad situation even worse.

If a tropical storm or hurricane is rolling in, assume that tornadoes are likely or imminent. For any other storm system, be aware of the warning signs: dark, eerie, greenish skies, hail, and a loud freight train-like roar.

If a tornado is approaching, it’s crucial to find shelter immediately, preferably in a small, windowless room on the lowest level of a sturdy building.

Once again, every single part of Florida experiences tornadoes. Be ready!

Extreme flooding strikes Florida, at least 1 dead | LiveNOW from FOX

4. Flooding

Flooding is a common and constant natural disaster in Florida, especially during the rainy season and when tropical storms or hurricanes make landfall.

The state’s flat terrain, extensive coastline, and numerous rivers, lakes, and wetlands make it severely vulnerable and highly prone to both coastal and inland flooding.

It is easier to count the things that won’t cause flooding in Florida than the things that will: flooding can result from heavy rainfall, storm surges, overflowing rivers, and even the failure of man-made structures like dams and levees.

Flooding is especially dangerous since it will knock out pretty much all infrastructure, contaminate water and make evacuation or rescue efforts slow and very dangerous.

No matter where you live in Florida, you must make sure that you are prepared for danger of flooding, and doubly so if you live on the coasts: storm surge is a major killer during hurricanes!

How Florida Firefighters Fight Wildfires with Fire

5. Wildfires

Since Florida is so humid and wet overall, you could be forgiven for thinking that wildfires just aren’t a threat.

I wish that were so, but it just isn’t the case: wildfires can be a common occurrence and significant threat in Florida due to abundant vegetation, hot climate, and near-constant lightning in some seasons.

These fires can cause extensive damage to property and native ecosystems, and are occasionally, though not always, a danger to human life.

In the event of an encroaching wildfire, residents should stay informed about evacuation orders and be prepared to leave their homes quickly if necessary.

To prevent wildfire damage, follow fire safety guidelines such as properly extinguishing campfires, grills and barbeques, avoiding outdoor burning during dry periods, and create defensible spaces around homes by clearing flammable vegetation.

Wildfires are a threat that is nearly random, but they’re most likely to occur in drought-affected areas.

Massive sinkhole opens up near Scott Lake in Polk County

6. Sinkholes

One of the scariest and almost uniquely Floridian disasters you might face is a sinkhole. Sinkholes are depressions, literally holes, in the Earth’s surface that open up after the collapse of underlying rock or soil.

Sometimes small and damaging, other times huge, totally destructive, and terrifying, it’s hard living in some sinkhole-prone areas knowing that the ground might, at any moment, give way under your feet and swallow you.

This is no joke, people: and there are many reported instances of sinkholes demolishing houses and even killing people.

Florida is, sadly, particularly prone to sinkholes due to its underlying geology, which consists of limestone and other soluble rocks that can dissolve over time.

This process, known as karstification, creates voids underground that can eventually collapse and form sinkholes.

You don’t need me to tell you that they can cause significant damage to homes and roads, and seriously endanger human life.

Not all areas are as prone to sinkholes in Florida, but you must be alert to any early warning signs that might tip you off, such as mysterious cracks in your walls or patios, sudden water drainage from your pool, ponding on the surface where none existed, or an inability to easily open or close a door or window.

If you suspect a sinkhole may be forming on your property, contact a professional geologist right away to assess the situation and give recommendations. In some cases, engineers can build structures to stabilize the ground and prevent further damage.

Heat wave puts lives at risk in South Florida

7. Heatwaves

Ah, Florida. It has earned the name nickname of Sunshine State. That’s because the summer months make it feel like the sun is only 3 feet off the ground!

Florida is a hot, hot state, and prone to periods of intense heat, compounded by high humidity in many places.

Sustained hot weather can pose a significant risk to your health and well-being, and is particularly deadly for vulnerable populations such as the elderly, young children, and anyone else with preexisting health conditions.

In Florida, heatstroke, dehydration, and heat exhaustion are some of the most common maladies.

No matter where you live in Florida, except the most northern reaches of the panhandle, dangerous heat is a constant in the spring and summer months.

You must be prepared to take sensible precautions to stay cool, such as wearing light-colored clothing, avoiding strenuous activities outside during peak heat hours, and keeping your home cool.

As always, drink plenty of fluids, and check up on vulnerable folks to ensure they are not suffering any ill effects.


8. Lightning

Florida is sometimes known as the “Lightning Capital of the United States” due to its high frequency of lightning strikes. Their hockey team is even called the Tampa Bay Lightning!

But why so many lightning strikes? Easy: the state’s warm, humid climate promotes frequent, vigorous thunderstorms.

While lightning is a natural part of the Earth’s weather system and arguably not a disaster in and of itself, it also poses a significant risk to people, animals, and property.

Considering that Florida is about as flat as a pancake, there are no mountains or hills that will help attract it away from you in some areas.

If you are outside or, worse, on the water in a storm you’ll be under an elevated risk of being struck.

It’s crucial to seek shelter indoors or in a hard-topped vehicle and avoid open areas, open water, and tall objects that could act as lightning conductors wherever possible.

In addition to personal safety procedures, residents are wise to invest in lightning protection systems for homes and businesses.

These systems can help prevent property damage from lightning strikes. Once again, lightning is a major consideration throughout Florida, but the coasts and Southern Florida are regions of intense activity.

What are the Least Disaster-prone Areas in Florida?

Florida is an elevated- to high-risk state for natural disasters according to FEMA’s hazard assessment. In the panhandle, most of the counties on the western half are much safer compared to the peninsula.

Down in Florida proper, you’re taking your chances pretty much everywhere, with only Hardee and Glades County being comparatively low risk of major harm from natural disasters.

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