Disaster Preparedness
February 1, 2010

When I eat breakfast each morning, I usually have the TV on so that I can tune in to the day’s weather. This time of year, it is important that I know just how many layers of fleece I will need to keep warm walking around my school’s campus. Although at that hour she is usually still fast asleep under her fuzzy pink blanket, Comet relies on me to make sure she is also dressed warmly. She has a great variety of sweaters and jackets that will keep biting cold winds at bay.


Throughout the year, I also depend on weather reports to let me know if there are any dangerous weather events looming. Animals seem to have a “sixth sense” about impending bad weather. Even though Comet is an older dog now and her hearing is not what it used to be, she seems to know when it is raining outside—a message for my water-hating dog to stay in bed and not ask to go out. And, like most other dogs, she hates thunderstorms and seems to sense them even before they arrive by beginning to pace, shake, and pant, as if she knows something is wrong.


Dogs aren’t the only ones who are sensitive to these changes in the weather, though. In the wild, animals have been known to sense weather changes before we, humans, do. Back on December 26th, 2004, a powerful underwater earthquake caused a deadly tsunami which killed over 200,000 people living in areas around the Indian Ocean. However, in a disaster which took so many lives, very few animals were reported to have died. So, where were the animals? In Sri Lanka and India, two areas greatly affected by the disaster, elephants were seen running toward higher elevations and hills before anybody knew what was to come. There, they would be safe above the flood waters. Flocks of flamingos, which normally breed in low-elevation areas, flew to higher places to seek safety. Household pets and animals in zoos took shelter and refused to come out of their enclosures. So while the people of these areas were unprepared for the disaster, the animals already knew.


In August, 2004, Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane, hit Florida. At its greatest speed, the wind reached 150 miles per hour, and—at the time—it caused the second-highest amount of damage of all U.S. Atlantic hurricanes. As the storm approached land, the world underwater was already preparing for the disaster. A group of scientists studying sharks recorded that eight sharks fled their shallow-water homes for deeper water. However, it was not until a few weeks passed that they began to explore the connection between the sharks’ odd behavior and the hurricane. While they considered wind and rain as causes of the sharks’ fleeing, they decided that the change in the barometric pressure was most likely the cause. Inside their ears, sharks have little hairs which may detect changes in air pressure, alerting them to changes in the weather.


Scientists puzzle over the phenomenon of animals sensing weather changes. Perhaps animals do have a sixth sense, which humans have lost over time. Some believe this is more of a psychic intuition, or an extra sense which allows animals to predict future events, while others look at it as more of a natural instinct animals possess. I tend to lean towards a third view which attributes this phenomenon to animals’ heightened senses. I have always noticed that Comet can hear, smell, and see far better than I can. (And, she certainly has heightened taste buds, too!) Perhaps the animals in the tsunami could feel the rumbling of the earthquake far before the tsunami hit, which warned them to move toward safer ground. Storms, like Hurricane Charley, are also preceded by changes in the barometric pressure—or air pressure—as well as in the wind, temperature, and electricity in the air. Comet may sense these changes when she gets anxious before thunderstorms. With built-in super senses, animals may appear to have a sixth sense, but I think it’s more likely that they are just more in-tune with their surroundings than we are.


Here are some tips you can consider if you’d like to help your weather-sensitive pet, or if you’d like to learn more about animals’ amazing senses.

  • If your dog, like Comet, gets anxious when there are thunderstorms, you can try to comfort her. Some pets feel comforted by the touch of a blanket around them, background music to drown out the thunder, or just by you being near them. Never let an anxious dog outside off-leash, as they may instinctively run away when scared. Remember, any pet can show signs of aggression, especially when anxious, so be sure to keep yourself safe and ask an adult to help.
  • Every family should have an emergency plan in place in case of a natural disaster. For more information on how your family can make a plan to keep your pet safe, see the MSPCA’s Disaster Preparedness Resources by clicking here.
  • When natural disasters occur, such as the recent earthquake in Haiti, the Red Cross and other world organizations step in to help the human victims. The MSPCA is one of many groups that will help the animals affected by the disaster. Kids can help by fundraising for this cause. To find out more about the MSPCA’s work in Haiti, visit our website by clicking here.
  • You can read more about animals sensing weather changes by following the links below:


Can Animals Predict Disaster? - PBS Nature


Sharks in Hurricane Charley - BNET


Animals in 2004 Tsunami - National Geographic


Can Animals Sense Earthquakes? - National Geographic