Natural disasters in Croatia: Catastrophes of the Past and Risks of the Future

Croatia is a much sought-after tourist destination. Millions of tourists come every year to relax on the luxurious beaches of the Adriatic Sea, to admire the beautiful mountains and see the historical monuments. And of course they should know in advance what natural disasters or catastrophes they may encounter. Natural disasters always come unexpectedly, but with knowledge of their potential, you can prepare for them.

Climatic characteristics of Croatia

Croatia is partly located on the Adriatic Sea coast in the subtropical climate zone, commonly referred to as the Mediterranean climate, and partly in the moderate continental climate zone. The country is characterised by a clear division of the year into two seasons: hot and arid summers and cool winters with abundant rain. There is considerably more rainfall along the sea coast than on the mainland.

The continental part of the country is situated in the Danube Lowland. It is dominated by elevations of about 200 metres above sea level. Numerous rivers often overflow their banks after the rains.

The Dinaric Plateau divides the coastal part of the country from the mainland. The highest point of the country, Mount Dinara, reaches 1831 metres above sea level. Croatia’s coastal areas are commonly classified as seismic zones.

Potential hazards that could cause a natural disaster include

  1. Seismic activity in the region. Severe earthquakes with devastation and loss of life can occur.
  2. Seasonal storms and hurricanes. Lead to coastal destruction, roofs being ripped off and trees being uprooted.
  3. Heavy precipitation. Characteristic of the winter season and can cause severe flooding not only on the coast, but along the valleys of the many mountain rivers and tributaries of the Danube.
  4. Hot, dry weather. In the summer, it periodically causes forest areas to catch fire.
  5. Steep and rocky cliffs. It can cause landslides and rockfalls, posing a threat to tourists.

The importance of studying the history of natural disasters

The history of natural disasters is important information to learn before travelling to your chosen country. Knowing the potential dangers that may be waiting for you can help you not only choose the right place, but also the time, the season of the year when the threat of being at the epicentre of a natural disaster will be minimal.

For example, knowing that the second half of winter in Croatia sees an increase in stormy winds with heavy rainfall, it might be a good idea to visit the country at a different time of year.

Read this article to learn about the chronology of natural disasters that have occurred in Croatia in the past.


In recent years, Croatia and its neighbouring countries have not recorded any particularly strong earthquakes, but earthquakes have occurred in the past. Therefore, seismic scientists do not rule out the possibility of a repeat of catastrophic earthquakes in the region.

26 March 1511

A major earthquake of magnitude 8 struck Idrija in what is now Slovenia. In Croatia, tremors of up to magnitude 6 were felt, causing considerable damage. Even in Zagreb, the Catholic cathedral was badly damaged. The total number of victims exceeded 15,000.

6 April 1667

An earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 struck near Dubrovnik, then named Rogoza. Three quarters of all the city buildings were destroyed. Three to five thousand people died. The catastrophe resulted in the collapse of the Rogusa Republic, which after this event ceased to exist.

9 November 1880

The earthquake was named Great Zagreb, and its magnitude was 6.3. As a result, 1700 buildings in the city were damaged and one person was killed. Immediately after the first tremors, frightened crowds stormed the departing trains, eager to get away from the disaster site. Zagreb Cathedral was affected again. Its restoration lasted for 25 years afterwards.

7-11 January 1962

A series of earthquakes shook the towns of Podgora and Makarska in southern Dalmatia. The magnitude of the shocks reached 6.2. About 3 thousand buildings were severely damaged and destroyed. 6 people were killed and thousands were forced to evacuate from destroyed areas.

Землетрясение в Петринье

22 March 2020

The epicentre of this 5.5 magnitude earthquake was just 7 kilometres from Zagreb. It damaged and rendered uninhabitable about 2,000 buildings and killed 1 person. The catastrophe occurred in the midst of covid restrictions, making it difficult to control the epidemic.

29 December 2020

The latest of the strong earthquakes recorded in Croatia occurred near the town of Petrinja. Its magnitude exceeded 5.2. According to the mayor of the town, half of all buildings were destroyed. Seven people were killed. The total damage is estimated at 5 billion euros.


Destructive tsunami waves are known to occur after earthquakes or underwater landslides. Strong tsunamis are not common in the Adriatic Sea; if they do occur, they are no higher than 2 to 3 metres.

For example, after a rather large earthquake in 1962, scientists predicted a tsunami to strike. According to their calculations, the wave height could exceed 1 metre. But locals said that no tsunami was observed, or that they simply didn’t notice it.

Another cause of a tsunami can be a sudden change in atmospheric pressure and the resonance of the sea waters shaking. Such a tsunami is called a meteorological tsunami. This is what happened on 27 July 2014 near the town of Vela Luka. The tsunami wave reached a height of 2 metres and washed several boats ashore.

Storms and hurricanes

Шторм в Хорватии

In winter, strong storms and hurricanes are not uncommon in Croatia. They are caused by bora winds that blow down from the mountains surrounding the coast, creating violent storms at sea. This causes storms and wreaks havoc on the coastal strip.

One of the strongest hurricanes in history hit Dalmatia on 23 February 2019. In Split, wind gusts reached a record 48 metres per second. The wind playfully tore down centuries-old trees, road signs and tore down the roofs of houses. Many of the boats and yachts ashore sustained significant damage.

On 10 February 2016, a severe storm hit the northern part of the country, near the Istrian peninsula. Five-metre-high waves hit the town of Rovinj, flooding low-lying areas. Gusts of wind reached 100 kilometres per hour. Residents compared their town to Venice. Luckily, there were no casualties.

However, one should not think that Croatia is completely safe in summer in terms of storms. Cataclysms are also possible at this time of year. On 29 May 2022, for example, a big storm blew across the north of the country. Winds tore out trees, tore down wires, and water flooded city streets. The storm was accompanied by hail the size of tennis balls.


Наводнение в Хорватии

Floods in Croatia occur for two reasons. In the continental part of the country, the most dangerous are torrential rains, which lead to a rise in river levels and flooding of a large area. On the coast, a storm surge that hits towns and villages poses a risk.

The heaviest rains occur in the country during winter and early spring. For example, in December 2022, rains caused the Una River to rise. Several villages and towns were flooded. Locals fortified the banks of the river with sandbags.

On May 17, 2023, incessant rains caused the worst flooding ever, which locals compared to the apocalypse. Houses were sinking fast and residents barely had time to evacuate. Several people have gone missing.

Sometimes floods also happen in the summer and then they are called Flash Floods. Such a flood paralysed life in Zagreb on the night of July 25, 2020. Water flooded sewers and lower floors of buildings, transportation stopped, and many people were trapped.


As a rule, after heavy rainfall in mountainous areas, landslides are to be expected. Although there are no very high mountains in the country, landslides still pose a danger, especially to travellers in a car.

For example, on 14 December 2022 heavy rains caused landslides in several regions of Croatia, eroding roads and damaging several buildings. One person was killed.

On 19 March 2018, again, heavy rains caused a landslide in the town of Kostajnica. 10 houses were destroyed, but human casualties were avoided.

Forest fires

Лесной пожар в Хорватии

Forest fires have become a common occurrence in many European countries. Croatia is in a better situation than France or Spain, but sometimes the blaze gets out of control. For example, the massive forest fires of the summer of 2022 did not spare the country. In the village of Raslina near Prokla Lake, 20 houses were destroyed by fire.

A year earlier, in August 2021, 800 hectares of forest near the spa town of Split caught fire. Authorities deployed considerable forces and even air power to stop the fire’s advance. However, numerous tourists were not affected by the fire.


The biggest threat to tourists in Croatia are winter storms and hurricanes. They cause maximum damage to infrastructure and a lot of inconvenience to holidaymakers. The downpours that accompany hurricanes can lead to severe flooding, which also does not contribute to safety.

Earthquakes pose a potentially high risk to Croatia. They are not regular, but there is a risk. An earthquake can happen at any time and is very difficult to predict.

Forest fires are controlled by the authorities and pose little threat to tourists.

The safest time of year to visit Croatia is in summer. The heat at this time of year though strong, but quite bearable, and in the mountains even comfortable. The sea is calm and precipitation is minimal. In the autumn and winter months, there are often storms and downpours; the seawater cools down, and it is not safe to swim in it.

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