The most destructive US hurricanes

This summer the US NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) in consultation with the National Hurricane Center (NHC) updated the listing of costliest tropical cyclones to strike the United States. 

For all United States hurricanes, according to the update, Hurricane Katrina (2005, $193.8B) is the costliest storm on record. Hurricane Harvey (2017, $155.0B) ranks second, Hurricane Ian (2022, $115.2B) ranks third, Hurricane Maria (2017, $111.6B) ranks fourth, and Hurricane Sandy (2012, $85.9B*) ranks fifth. 

Human cost

However, did you know that you have to go back to 1900 to track the most destructive hurricane to make landfall on the US mainland? Here we give you a rundown of the most devastating tropical storms – in terms of the cost to human life – since records began:

1. Galveston Hurricane (August 1900) 

Category 4: 130-156 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 8,000

The Galveston Hurricane was the deadliest weather disaster in US history, according to NOAA. The storm system formed over the Atlantic, and travelled to the Gulf of Mexico, while picking up strength and speed. It hit landfall in Texas, just south of Galveston. Its power tore across the Great Plains, then weakened as it travelled north-eastward through the Great Lakes, New England and southern Canada.

2. Hurricane Maria (September 2017)

Category 4: 150 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 2,975

Maria began in the Indian Ocean then moved westward across the Atlantic Ocean, gaining speed and power along the way. Its first land target was the Caribbean island of Dominica, on which it unleashed 23 inches of rainfall. Maria then turned north and slammed into Puerto Rico, causing widespread destruction, including power outages that lasted for months. Experts estimate that more than 1,000 people in Puerto Rico were killed as a result of the storm, according to a 2017 New York Times report.

The hurricane continued north along the Atlantic Ocean shoreline, striking Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It eventually travelled further north to Cape Race, Newfoundland, before dissipating in the Atlantic.

3. San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane (September 1928) 

Category 4: 130-156 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 2,166

The San-Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane is widely regarded as one of the most destructive hurricanes of all time. This storm began over the Atlantic, gained momentum while passing over the Leeward Islands and then smashed into Puerto Rico. From there, it ventured northwest through the Bahamas, building even more force, and made landfall in Palm Beach, Florida. The worst damage took place in Lake Okeechobee, Florida, where it caused storm surges of up to 9 feet. The hurricane eventually dissipated after barrelling through eastern North Carolina and parts of the Great Lakes region.

4. Hurricane Katrina (September 2005)

Category 4: 157 mph+ wind speeds
Deaths: 1,207

Weather experts call Katrina the most costly hurricane in US history, with the storm laying waste to New Orleans, portions of the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, and parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida.

The hurricane formed in the Caribbean Sea just southeast of the Bahamas, then travelled northwest to Florida and made landfall in Broward County. It turned west, gaining strength as it travelled across the Gulf of Mexico, before returning to land at 125 miles per hour in Buras, Louisiana. All told, Katrina generated about 10 to 14 inches of rain over Florida and 8 to 12 inches of rain along the northern Gulf coast. It also caused 33 tornadoes, NOAA said.

5. Cheniere Caminada Hurricane (October 1893)

Category 5: 130 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 1,100

Cheniere Caminada formed in the Caribbean Sea, moved northwest toward the Gulf of Mexico, then made landfall Cheniere Caminada, Louisiana — a fishing town east of Grand Isle. The hurricane continued west and struck Mississippi, tearing through 500 miles of coastline between both states. It also caused destruction in Georgia and the Carolinas.

All told, Cheniere Caminada damaged ships and destroyed parts of towns and crops. It was the second deadliest storm in Louisiana history behind Katrina.

6. Sea Island Hurricane (August 1893)

Category 3: 120 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 1,000

The Sea Island Hurricane formed in the Atlantic Ocean, generating its might as it travelled west toward the Caribbean Sea near the Lesser Antilles islands. It then headed north, through the Bahamas, dragging a fury of heavy winds across the Sea Islands — a group of isles along Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The Sea Island Hurricane moved up the Atlantic coast and eventually made landfall in Savannah, Georgia.

7. New England Hurricane (September 1938) 

Category 3: 112-129 mph wind speeds
Deaths: 600

This hurricane earned the nickname the ‘Long Island Express’ because of the havoc it wreaked on the north-eastern United States. It began in the Atlantic, grew stronger as it moved west and hit Puerto Rico, most likely as a Category 5 hurricane, NOAA said. The storm then turned north and arrived in the US in Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Continuing north, it was downgraded to a Category 3 once it hit Long Island, New York, and parts of Connecticut. The heavy rainfall caused flooding of the Connecticut River and surges in Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay.

Weather experts call Katrina the most costly hurricane in US history, with the storm laying waste to New Orleans, portions of the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, and parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida.

This hurricane earned the nickname the ‘Long Island Express’ because of the havoc it wreaked on the north-eastern United States. 

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