UPPER WEST SIDE — As visitors first enter the American Museum of Natural History's newest exhibit, they're bombarded with three screens flashing scenes of some of the worst disasters of the past half-century.
The tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes that have changed our world through the devastation they caused are featured alongside a dramatic score as part of the forthcoming exhibit, "Nature's Fury: The Science of Natural Disasters."
Wall text next to the video proclaims: "These natural events remind us that we are small and vulnerable — and that living on this dynamic planet will always entail risk."
But beyond this foreboding entryway, the curators have displayed models, video and audio installations, along with interactive activities, all seeking to prove that science can help us understand and mitigate natural disasters.
"'Nature's Fury' explores the causes and consequences of volatile natural phenomena," explained Ellen Futter, the museum's president.
By studying natural disasters, we can make "more informed decisions" that can prevent the loss of life and property, she said.
Through separate sections on earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, hurricanes and tsunamis, the exhibit explains how such natural phenomena form and what happens when we are faced with them.
"Nature's Fury" also delves into the history of early scientific discoveries on natural disasters and explains how scientists' latest discoveries are guiding disaster preparedness.
By studying how the earthquake happened in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 2010, the exhibit explains how scientists can help inform governments and building owners about the best ways to rebuild.
They can also guide cities along similar fault lines, like San Francisco, in how to prepare for future earthquakes. For example, scientists are now advising buildings to use internal cables to help them sway but not crumble under the pressure of a quake.
In the section of the exhibit devoted to hurricanes, an interactive map shows how Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, as well as the flooding and destruction it caused. The map changes colors to display what scientists thought would happen and what actually did happen.
"Sandy was a creature of accident," said Edmond Mathez, a curator at the museum, explaining that the hurricane hit New York City and the New Jersey coastline during high tide and during a full moon, creating much more severe conditions.
For kids or parents looking for an immersive, hands-on experience, the exhibit has a "make your own volcano" game in which the user can create different types of volcanoes based on the amount of dissolved gas and silica, which is found in magma, they add to it.
In addition, a panoramic video recorded in Iowa in 2004 lets a person experience what standing directly in a tornado's path looks and sounds like. Scientists can now better calculate the speed of the base of a tornado based on freezing frames of the video, the exhibit explains.
"Nature's Fury" opens Nov. 15 and runs through Aug. 9.