Deadly and Devastating
Hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 to November 30, is reaching its peak along the southern and eastern coastlines. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting between 9 to 15 named storms (storms with winds of 39 miles per hour or higher). Four to eight of these storms could become hurricanes with winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, and two to four could become major hurricanes with winds of 111 miles per hour or higher. NOAA relies on a variety of tools to predict hurricanes, including more than 150 years of data on some of the most devastating storms ever to have hit the mainland. Here are some of the worst and most costly storms that have struck the United States.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
Although it is not the largest storm recorded, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was by far the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, with property damage estimated at more than $125 billion ($160 billion in 2017 dollars). Katrina was a Category 5 hurricane that first hit Florida on August 25, 2005, as a Category 1 storm and then intensified before slamming into New Orleans and surrounding areas in Louisiana. Much of the damage was due to a storm surge that caused more than 50 breaches in the surge protection levees surrounding New Orleans, flooding 80 percent of the city. The surge peaked at an estimated 28 feet, the highest surge on record in the United States. Katrina damaged or destroyed 30 oil platforms and caused the closure of nine refineries. Federal disaster declarations covered 90,000 square miles, an estimated 3 million people lost electricity, and more than 1,800 people died in the storm and its aftermath.
Related: After Disaster: 8 U.S. Cities That Went from Ruin to Rebirth
1900 Galveston Hurricane
The deadliest hurricane in U.S. history was the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, a Category 4 storm that essentially obliterated the city of Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900. It is estimated that 8,000 to 12,000 people lost their lives in this storm, which lashed the city with winds of up to 143 miles per hour and a storm surge of 8 to 15 feet. More than 3,600 homes were destroyed, leaving 10,000 people homeless, and the hurricane caused an estimated $30 million in damages (nearly $496 million in 2017 dollars). Galveston's geography makes it a hot spot for future storms, and NOAA forecasts that the city could be plagued by chronic flooding by the year 2030 if nothing is done to address human-caused climate change.
flickr.com via uhdigital
1935 Labor Day Hurricane
The most intense hurricane ever to hit the United States hit the Florida Keys on September 2, 1935. Registering the lowest-ever sea level pressure of 892 millibars at landfall, this was the first known Category 5 hurricane to strike the mainland United States. The Labor Day hurricane tied with Hurricane Dorian for maximum sustained winds, estimated at 185 miles per hour, and the storm surge reached 20 feet. The hurricane caused catastrophic damage in the Florida Keys, destroying nearly all structures between Tavernier and Marathon; the town of Islamorada was obliterated. Portions of the Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway were severely damaged or destroyed. The hurricane also caused damage in northwest Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. According to NOAA, 408 people lost their lives, many of them World War I veterans who were working on construction projects. The veterans were waiting for a train from Miami to evacuate them, but most of the 11-car train was swept from the tracks by the hurricane.
Related: Hurricane Season: 10 Myths Not to Believe
flickr.com via captkodak
Hurricane Camille, 1969
The highest recorded wind speed at landfall worldwide was reached by Hurricane Camille, which had winds estimated at 190 miles per hour when it hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969; actual maximum sustained winds will never be known because the hurricane destroyed the wind-recording instruments. The storm surge from Camille was 24 feet, the highest on record until Katrina. Camille caused damage throughout the Gulf Coast region and as far north as Virginia, with 259 people losing their lives, 8,931 people injured, 5,662 homes destroyed, and 13,915 homes that sustained major damage. The storm caused an estimated $1.42 billion in damages (equivalent to $9.7 billion in today’s dollars).
flickr.com via noaaphotolib
Hurricane Harvey, 2017
The Category 4 Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall at San José Island, Texas, on August 25, 2017, is tied with Hurricane Katrina as the costliest on record, inflicting an estimated $125 billion in damage centered on the Houston metropolitan area and southeast Texas. An estimated 300,000 structures were damaged or destroyed as well as more than half a million vehicles. Locations in Houston recorded more than 30 inches of rainfall within a three-day period. Approximately 336,000 people were left without electricity and 107 people lost their lives. World Weather Attribution claims that with Harvey, Americans saw the impact of human-induced climate change on extreme weather events. The record rainfall was "15 percent heavier and three times more likely because of climate change."
Related: 9 Things You Didn't Know About Flood Insurance
Superstorm Sandy, 2012
When Hurricane Sandy merged with a winter storm in late October 2012, the result was the largest diameter Atlantic hurricane on record, with tropical storm-force winds that spanned 900 miles. The storm affected 24 states, including the entire Eastern Seaboard from Florida to Maine, and reached as far west as Michigan and Wisconsin. The storm surge was particularly devastating to New Jersey and New York, where streets, tunnels, subway lines, and coastal areas flooded. Nearly 20,000 flights were canceled across the country, Amtrak shut down most of its Northeast train service for two days, and the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were also closed for two days. More than 8.5 million people in the Northeast lost power; 650,000 houses were either damaged or destroyed; and at least 233 people in eight countries lost their lives. Sandy caused an estimated $65 billion to $70 billion in damage.
1928 Okeechobee Hurricane
The 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane, also known as the San Felipe Segundo hurricane, claimed 2,500 to 3,000 lives in central Florida, making it the second-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history; along the storm’s entire path some 4,112 people lost their lives. The hurricane hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5 with winds of 160 miles per hour on September 13, 1928, where more than 24,728 homes were destroyed and 192,444 were damaged, leaving more than 500,000 people homeless. The storm reached the mainland as a Category 4 with winds of 145 miles per hour near West Palm Beach, Florida, on September 17. The storm surge caused water to pour out of Lake Okeechobee, flooding hundreds of square miles to depths as great as 20 feet. More than 1,711 homes were destroyed in West Palm Beach, and numerous houses and other buildings were swept away in Belle Glade, Canal Point, Chosen, Pahokee, and South Bay. The storm continued up the Eastern Seaboard and caused $1.3 billion in damages (in today's dollars).
Related: How to Prepare for a Hurricane
1926 Miami Hurricane
Commonly called the "Great Miami" hurricane, this Category 4 storm hit Miami on September 18, 1926, and caused widespread devastation across Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The Red Cross reported that 372 people lost their lives in the storm, which produced a storm surge of 10 feet on Miami Beach. The storm surge breached the dike that protected the town of Moore Haven from the waters of Lake Okeechobee, causing severe flooding that persisted for weeks. Damages in 1926 dollars were estimated at $105 million, which would be more than $100 billion in today's dollars. It has been estimated that a similar hurricane would cause more than $235 billion in damage if it were to hit Miami today.
flickr.com via rich701
Hurricane Andrew, 1992
Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 storm that made landfall in South Florida with the second-highest recorded wind speed, estimated at 167 miles per hour; because most of the instruments were destroyed, actual sustained wind speeds are unknown. The storm hit Elliott Key in Florida on August 24, 1992, and was the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida in terms of the number of structures damaged or destroyed. More than 63,500 houses were destroyed, more than 124,000 were damaged, and total damages were estimated at $27.3 billion. Andrew caused extensive damage to oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to $500 million in losses for oil companies. The storm made a second landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 storm, leaving about 230,000 people without electricity. In total, 65 people lost their lives.
flickr.com via stevenm_61
1893 Cheniere Caminada Hurricane
Also known as "The Great October Storm," this Category 4 hurricane struck Cheniere Caminada in Louisiana on October 2, 1893. The storm claimed an estimated 2,000 lives; more than half the population of Cheniere Caminada lost their lives in the storm. Winds of 135 miles per hour and a storm surge of 16 feet wiped out homes and businesses throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, causing an estimated $118 million in damages (in 2016 dollars).
flickr.com via hspauldi
Hurricane Maria, 2017
Although it did not reach the mainland, Hurricane Maria was the deadliest and costliest storm to ever hit a U.S. territory. It made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, as a Category 4 storm on September 20, 2017, with winds of 155 miles per hour. The hurricane completely destroyed the island's power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity. More than 2,975 people lost their lives, and damages were estimated in excess of $90 billion (in 2017 dollars). Scientists at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and Sonoma State University in California later released a paper indicating that the severe rains seen during Hurricane Maria are five times likelier today than in 1950, an increase they link to climate change.
flickr.com via bancomundiallac
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