Mother Nature is known to show her ugly side several times a year. When she exudes her mighty power, the cost is not only in the mighty dollar - it can come in the price of human life. Whether it's blizzards, tornadoes, earthquakes, snow, or any other kind of extreme weather anomaly, there's always a literal and emotional cost attached to rebuilding the destroyed area. In the last hundred years, hurricanes have become some of the most costly disasters in history and as they continue to hit major cities throughout the world and particularly in the United States, the cost of damage only gets higher.
But what exactly is a hurricane? Also known as a tropical cyclone, a typhoon, a tropical depression, and a tropical storm, a hurricane is a storm system that rotates with a low pressure center that includes high winds and severe thunderstorms. Not only does man have to deal with wind speeds like a tornado, but the rains are so intense that they often cause flooding, destroying people’s homes and lives. These storms will often form over an ocean and make their way to coastal locations near the equator, moving either North or South.
To help keep track of specific storms, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) began giving names to some of the bigger hurricanes since 1953. Ironically enough, some of the storms with female names have been the most intense - such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. If a storm is severe enough and causes enough damage, NOAA will retire the name for good. NOAA currently has their names for future hurricanes released up until 2019. Hurricanes are measured by the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind-scale, which ranges from 1 through 5 with 1 being the least destructive to 5, the most destructive. Any storm falling into category 3 or higher is classified as a hurricane.
Here, we've compiled a list of the ten most tragic and destructive hurricanes in history, as per media reports and economic assessments.
10 Andrew – $26.5 billion
Hurricane Andrew made history in 1992 as one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the South of Florida. Communities in cities such as Miami were completely wiped out and the storm killed about 15 people. Hurricane Andrew came as a surprise because it started out as a weak storm on the Atlantic Ocean, and scientists were convinced that it would break apart. Andrew became a category 5 hurricane in the midst of a season where no hurricanes had really occurred, meaning the area was unprepared and vulnerable.
9 Donna – $29.6 billion
Hurricane Donna was the only storm that reached an intense category 4 during the 1960 hurricane season. The storm started off the coast of Africa in late August, and made its way towards the United States. The storm maintained consistent high-speed hurricane winds from where it reached land in Florida all the way up the east coast to the north east of the United States and Canada. The storm surge also caused massive damage in the Florida Keys, created by up to 4 feet of water.
8 Ike – $29.5 billion
Hurricane Ike was one of the most damaging hurricanes in 2008. It greatly affected the United States as well as Cuba. What started as a tropical disturbance near Africa at the end of August eventually became a category 4 hurricane when it arrived at the Cape Verde Islands. The storm’s landfall impact hit the area of Texas and Haiti, which resulted in nearly 200 deaths. Louisiana also saw devastation, as well as parts of the United States along with the Mississippi River.
7 Lake Okeechobee – $33.6 billion
This hurricane struck in 1928, just two years after the Great Miami hurricane after which the area of South Florida was being rebuilt. Because of the reputation Florida had for being a center for severe storms, the area of South Florida only had housed around 50,000 people. But the area was a playground for celebrities and the wealthy of the time who wanted to take advantage of the inexpensive, spacious areas. So, when the category 4 storm came around in 1928, the waters of Lake Okeechobee rose and flooded nearly the entire area causing the modern day equivalent of billions of dollars in damage.
6 Cuba-Florida – $38.7 billion
The Cuba-Florida hurricane struck on October 19th, 1944 and greatly affected the southern United States. The hurricane first made landfall in Savannah, Georgia and passed through three more states; South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia as well as flooding parts of Florida. Most of the damage came from the floods, and the storm destroyed Florida’s citrus harvest, which accounted for some of the money lost along with repairing damages. The hurricane also killed about 300 people along with destroying numerous ships around the harbors of Havana, Cuba.
5 Great New England – $39.2 billion
The Great New England hurricane of 1938 was one of the most destructive hurricanes of its time as it ravaged the southern New England area as well as Long Island. The storm hit on September 21st and had wind speeds of over 160 mph. The origin of the storm was found to be in the Cape Verde Islands and made its way across the Atlantic to its final destination. Residents of these areas experienced massive amounts of rain and neighborhoods and towns were swept away in the massive flooding.
4 Sandy - $65 billion
For the first time in a long while, the North East - specifically parts of New Jersey and the city of New York - were bracing themselves for a massive hurricane. Sandy was the most deadly and destructive hurricane of the 2012 season and nearly wiped the coast of New Jersey from the map. Sandy formed out of a massive wave in the Atlantic and became a tropical storm, which intensified as it passed over Cuba. However, as it made its way over to the northeastern United States, the storm became a massive category 3 hurricane, and became the largest hurricane on record. Because of the population and architecture, New York City took the brunt of the damage with flooded subways, power outages, and tunnels and streets unable to be used for days.
3 1900 Galveston – $78 billion
The Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is known as one of the deadliest hurricanes in American history. The storm formed in late August over the central Atlantic, and moved over Cuba as a tropical storm. As it moved closer to the United States, passing over parts of Florida, the storm began to intensify and reached hurricane status. By the time it hit Galveston on September 5th and 6th, on the Saffir-Simpson scale the hurricane was a category 4. Between 8,000 and 12,000 people lost their lives.
2 Katrina – $108 billion
It’s the storm that will be talked about for decades to come. Images of the city of New Orleans nearly submerged underwater are now iconic representation of a hurricane's formidable power, and stand as a testament to the mistakes that can prove deadly when it comes to damage control and rebuilding a city. Of all the storms in the Atlantic hurricane season in 2005, Katrina was the deadliest and most destructive. The storm was the catalyst for controversy focused on how the United States government handled the disaster, with the public and the media particularly highlighting their lack of preparation for the major storm. The surge protection implemented in the city of New Orleans catastrophically failed and pushed all concerned to take a second look at the integrity of the city's infrastructures.
1 Great Miami – $157 billion
On September 18th, 1926, a category 3 hurricane made landfall in Miami and nearly wiped out the city. In 1926, it caused about $105 million in damages - adjusted for inflation, the damage totaled $157 billion. Today, a category 3 storm wouldn't do as much damage, but when it came to architecture in the early 1900’s, protections against natural disaster were far less sophisticated. Along with Miami taking on the damages, the panhandle of Florida, the Bahamas, and the state of Alabama were heavily damaged as well. The death toll totaled 372 casualties. For the economics of the mid-twenties, this storm was a devastating blow to the United States and affected the city of Miami for quite a while after the storm was over.