Natural disasters in Bulgaria: past and future risks
Bulgaria is a popular and constantly developing tourist destination. Millions of tourists come here every year to relax on the luxurious beaches of the Black Sea, admire the beautiful mountains and see historical monuments. And, of course, they should find out in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. A natural disaster always comes unexpectedly, but knowing about its potential, you can prepare for it.
Climatic characteristics of Bulgaria
Bulgaria is located in the north-east of the Balkan Peninsula. The east of the country is washed by the waters of the Black Sea. The climate here resembles the Mediterranean subtropical climate, with mild winters and hot and sunny summers. The central and western parts of Bulgaria lie in the zone of temperate continental climate. It is characterized by a clear division of the year into seasons: hot summers, cold winters, rainy autumns and cool springs.
A significant part of the country’s territory is occupied by mountains: Stara Planina and Rhodope. Many peaks exceed 2500 thousand metres and are a popular tourist destination. In winter, the mountains have a dense snow cover that threatens avalanches. In summer and autumn, rainfall can cause landslides and floods.
Dozens of rivers flow through Bulgaria, although only the Danube is navigable. However, the country’s mountain rivers can easily overflow their banks and flood surrounding settlements.
Potentially dangerous factors that can cause a natural disaster include:
- Seismic activity of the region. May cause an earthquake with destruction and casualties.
- Seasonal hurricanes and storms. Causes coastal damage, torn roofs and uprooted trees.
- Heavy rainfall. Typical in summer and autumn and can cause severe flooding, landslides or mudslides.
- Hot, dry weather. Occasionally leads to forest fires in summer.
- High mountains and cliffs. May cause landslides and rockfalls and, in winter, avalanches that endanger tourists.
The importance of learning about the history of natural disasters
The history of natural disasters is an important piece of information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing about the potential dangers that may await you will not only help you choose the right place, but also the time and season of the year when the threat of being in the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.
For example, knowing that landslides often occur in the area of the city of Varna, you can choose a different resort for your trip to the country.
In this article, you will learn the chronology of natural disasters that occurred in Bulgaria in the past.
Two particularly dangerous seismic areas can be distinguished in Bulgaria. These are the north-east, bordering Romania and the Carpathians, and the south-west, periodically shaken by tectonic shocks from the Balkan Mountains. History has preserved records of several devastating earthquakes.
14 November 1802
At noon, the strongest earthquake occurred in central Romania. The amplitude of shocks in the epicentre was 7.9 points. The main blow fell on Romania, but Ottoman Bulgaria was also affected. The coastal cities of Ruse, Varna and Vidin were destroyed. The death toll was enormous.
11 January 1838
Once again, the shock came from the direction of the Vrancea Mountains in Romania. This time, the strength of the tremors was 7.5 points. And again, not only Bucharest, but also a number of cities in Bulgaria were badly affected. Strong tremors up to 6 points were felt in the city of Veliko Tarnovo. There were no reports about victims in the country.
4 April 1904
Two consecutive earthquakes occurred on this day in the valley of the Struma River near the town of Krupnik. The magnitude of the strongest one exceeded 7 points. As a result, several villages were wiped off the face of the earth, landslides occurred in the mountains and cracks in the earth’s crust up to 2 metres wide were formed. 200 deaths were reported.
14 April 1928
The epicentre of the earthquake was in the mountains of central Bulgaria, near Plovdiv. The magnitude of the tremors exceeded 7 points. 70 thousand houses were destroyed, railway tracks were torn up. By a lucky chance, the shock of elements has come on a holiday day and the majority of people were on the streets. Therefore, large victims were avoided, only 127 people were killed.
22 May 2012
One of the last strong earthquakes in the region occurred 20 kilometres west of Sofia. Its magnitude was 5.6. The town of Pernik was severely affected, with 60% of houses destroyed. In the capital, residents spent several hours in the streets, fearing a repeat of the tremors. There were no casualties, but the total damage exceeded 20 million leva.
Tsunami killer waves are not typical for the closed Black Sea, but they happen here too. They are always caused by strong earth tremors on the seabed.
Thus, on 31 March 1901, a strong earthquake occurred 30 kilometres from the coast of Bulgaria in the region of South Dobrudja. The magnitude of the tremors was 7.2 points. As a result, a tsunami struck the coasts of Bulgaria and Romania. The height of waves exceeded 5 metres. They completely devastated the adjacent areas, destroying more than 1200 buildings.
Such tsunamis are rare for the Black Sea, they have happened only 24 times in the last 200 years. The strongest tsunami occurred in the year 104, but there are no reliable facts about the destruction caused by it to the lands of present-day Bulgaria.
Storms and hurricanes
Storms and hurricanes occur in Bulgaria at any time of the year, but they are far from tropical cyclones in terms of strength. For example, in September 2022, a storm hit the city of Burgas. The wind speed exceeded 100 kilometres per hour. Hundreds of trees were fallen, dozens of boats and yachts were swept out to sea.
A little earlier, in April of the same year, a strong hurricane affected the north-west of the country. The wind speed exceeded 150 kilometres per hour, it tore out century-old trees and tore roofs off houses. There was no information on casualties.
In early July 2023, the hurricane hit the Razgrad region of the country. The wind fell several trees and power lines. The hurricane was accompanied by heavy rain and large hail, but lasted only 15 minutes.
Winter storms also pose considerable danger to tourists. For example, in early February 2012, a strong storm hit Burgas and washed out the road connecting the city with Varna. The waves reached a height of 6 metres and caused serious damage to the tourist infrastructure.
Floods in Bulgaria have become commonplace in recent years. They occur regularly in summer and early autumn, but rarely have truly catastrophic consequences.
Most recently, in early September 2022, heavy rains caused flooding in central Bulgaria. Dozens of villages were flooded, roads were destroyed, and residents were left without drinking water and electricity. There were no casualties, and this situation is typical of recent floods. More catastrophic floods have occurred in the past.
2 July 1954
The city of Blagoevgrad was hit. Heavy rain caused a mud flow that flooded the streets of the town, sweeping away cars and even a multi-tonne excavator. The flow reached a height of 5 metres. As a result, not only was the city’s infrastructure damaged, but 13 residents were killed.
19 June 2014
An abnormally rainy summer led to floods in many countries of the Balkan Peninsula. Bulgaria was not spared by the elements. The north-east of the country was the hardest hit, where dozens of villages were flooded. Thousands of people were isolated and a state of emergency was declared. As a result, 16 people died and the damage caused by the floods totalled 30 million euros.
Landslides, mudslides and avalanches
Landslides and mudslides are usually the result of heavy rainfall. Bulgaria has many mountains and hills close to cities, which is a high risk factor.
Landslides in the country are called Slvlachischa. They occur most often on the sea coast and in the north-west of the country. The resort area of Varna is recognized as particularly dangerous in terms of landslides. About 200 landslides occur here every year. For example, after the rains in 2014, a landslide and mudflow hit the Asparuhovo neighbourhood. Several cars and houses were washed into the sea, 10 people died.
In winter, snow avalanches already pose a danger. Thus, in January 2019, heavy snowfalls led to avalanches in several regions of Bulgaria. In the Pirin Mountains, an avalanche claimed the lives of two snowboarding tourists.
At the end of February 2020, a tourist was buried by an avalanche in the ski resort of Bansko and spent several hours in snow captivity waiting for rescuers. Luckily, everything turned out alright.
Forest fires are a typical disaster for the country and occur every summer. Large areas of Bulgaria are covered with forests, and during dry weather there are dozens of fire centres. In early August 2021, for example, more than 20 hotbeds of forest fires were recorded in the country. Forests were burning in the area of Plovdiv, Blagoevgrad, Sofia. In the area of Karlovo, the fire engulfed more than 50 hectares of forest.
The situation was repeated in August 2022. In the neighbourhood of the town of Pazardzhik, 200 hectares of coniferous forest caught fire. Firefighting aviation was involved in extinguishing the fire.
Sometimes fires occur even in winter. For example, in January 2023, dry reeds caught fire in the Shablen Lake Reserve near Varna. About 30 hectares of grass burned there.
In general, forest fires do not threaten tourist regions and are rarely accompanied by human casualties.
Earthquakes pose the greatest potential threat to tourists in Bulgaria. Predicting their occurrence is very difficult, and huge damage can be caused. But the regularity of seismic events is very rare.
Floods and landslides are another matter. These disasters are less destructive than earthquakes, but can be deadly. Especially alarming is the fact that the tourist region of Varna is prone to landslides. This should be taken into account when choosing a holiday destination in Bulgaria.
Perhaps more attention should be paid not to the northern and central resorts of the Black Sea coast, but to the southern ones. There, the probability of landslides is much lower.
Tsunamis are not a big threat to the coast of the country, storms and hurricanes are much more dangerous. They can cause considerable destruction and human casualties.
Forest fires in the country are regular, but they do not pose a danger to tourism.
The safest time for holidays in Bulgaria is the beginning of summer, and for ski resorts – December.