A catastrophic failure is a sudden and total failure from which recovery is impossible. Catastrophic failures often lead to cascading systems failure. The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines where total and irrecoverable loss occurs. Such failures are investigated using the methods of forensic engineering, which aims to isolate the cause or causes of failure.
Catastrophic failure is also observed in the steam turbine rotor occurring due to peak stress acting on the rotor and also the stress concentration increases which ultimately leads to the failure of the disc.
In firearms, catastrophic failure usually refers to a rupture or disintegration of the barrel or receiver of the gun when firing it. Some possible causes for this is the gun being out of battery, having improper headspace, using incorrect ammunition for the firearm, using ammunition with an incorrect propellant charge, an obstructed or partially obstructed barrel, or weakened metal in the barrel or receiver. A failure of this type, also known colloquially as a "kaboom", or "kB" failure, can pose a threat to the user and bystanders.
Examples of catastrophic failure of engineered structures include:
The Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879, where the center half mile of the bridge was completely destroyed while a train was crossing in a storm. The bridge was badly designed and its replacement was built as a separate structure upstream of the old.
The failure of the South Fork Dam in 1889 released 4.8 billion US gallons of water and killed over 2,200 people (popularly known as the Johnstown Flood).
The collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928 released 12.4 billion US gallons of water (47 billion litres), resulting in a death toll of near 600 people.
The collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge of 1940, where the main deck of the road bridge was totally destroyed by dynamic oscillations in a 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) wind.
Lewis, Peter R. (2004). Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. Tempus. ISBN0-7524-3160-9.
^Hal W. Hendrick, Paul Paradis, Richard J. Hornick (2010-12-12). Human Factors Issues in Handgun Safety and Forensics. CRC Press. p. 132. Retrieved 2014-02-24. Many firearms are destroyed and injuries sustained by home reloaders who make a mistake in estimating the correct powder charge.
^Gregg Lee Carter, ed. (2012-05-31). Guns in American Society. ABC-CLIO. p. 255. ISBN978-0-313-38670-1. Retrieved 2014-02-24. ... and left the copper jacket lodged in the barrel, leading to a catastrophic failuer of the rifle when the next bullet fired hit the jacket remnants.