Powerful winds, drenching rain, and massive storm surges make hurricanes not only the most violent storms on the planet but also “the costliest natural disasters in the United States,” researchers reported in the journal in 2019 PNAS (opens in new tab). However, the ranking of the most damaging hurricanes depends on the metric used: usually financial cost or lost lives.
From an economic perspective, Hurricane Katrina of 2005 usually tops the list (although models that account for economic growth put a 1926 Miami storm first). Meanwhile, the deadliest hurricane hit the Caribbean in 1780, killing more than 22,000, Eric Jay Dolin, author of “A Raging Sky: The Five Hundred Year History of American Hurricanes (opens in new tab)(2020, Liveright), said Live Science. (By definition, a “hurricane” is a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific, while other parts of the world call these storms typhoons or cyclones — some of which have been deadlier.)
Katrina was “the costliest hurricane of all time,” causing about $125 billion in damage as it devastated New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas, Jay Dolin said.
Those costs exceeded $186 billion in 2022, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (opens in new tab) (NOAA), a tally that dwarfs the $54 billion expected annual losses from all hurricanes, according to a 2019 report US Congressional Budget Office (opens in new tab) estimate. According to the PNAS study, Katrina’s losses swallowed up 1% of US gross domestic product (GDP), or the total value of goods and services produced by a country in a year.
Related: 2022 Hurricane Season: How Long It Will Last and What To Expect
Katrina’s devastation came primarily from storm surges – a temporary rise in sea levels that can inundate coastal areas. during this storm Waves from 10 to 28 feet (10 to 30 feet) flooded regions along the Gulf Coast and breached levees in New Orleans.
The second costliest hurricane was Hurricane Harvey in 2017, which caused $149 billion (in 2022 dollars) in damage, primarily due to “rainfall that caused widespread flooding in southeast Texas, including Houston.” , said John Nielsen-Gammon, a professor of atmospheric science at Texas A&M University, told Live Science.
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Those two storms top the list for financial damage both globally and in the US, which is no coincidence, Nielsen-Gammon added. “The most damaging hurricanes in terms of monetary damage are most likely to happen where you have a lot of expensive infrastructure,” he said. “That’s why two US hurricanes are at the top of the list.”
Storms that affect US territories can therefore also cause costly damage. In 2017, Hurricane Maria caused $107 billion in damage (in 2022 US dollars) to Puerto Rico, ranking third on NOAA’s list of costliest U.S. storms. Hurricane Sandy, which inundated New York City’s subway tunnels and other areas in 2012, is next on the list ($82 billion), followed by Hurricane Ida in 2021, which devastated Louisiana and spawned tornadoes farther north ($79 billion).
Hurricane Irma, which ranked sixth on NOAA’s list in 2017, struck several Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, and caused a total of $59.5 billion in property and infrastructure damage. (Leaderboards that include non-US casualties may reshuffle the order, placing Irma ahead of Sandy, for example, as in the World Meteorological Organization list.)
Other wealthy countries are also reporting high economic costs from tropical cyclones, Hugh E. Willoughby, a professor of Earth and Environment at Florida International University in Miami, told Live Science. For example, 2019 Typhoon Hagibis caused Japan about $15 billion (2019 dollars) in damage, according to a study published in the Journal in May 2022 climate change (opens in new tab).
A deadly toll
The Great Hurricane of 1780 tops the list of the most damaging hurricanes in terms of lives lost. It killed more than 22,000 people, with the highest death tolls on the islands of Barbados, Martinique and Sint Eustatius, Dolin said. Galveston’s 1910 storm, the deadliest hurricane in the United States, killed 6,000 to 12,000 people in the then-popular vacation spot, Dolin said.
In the US, the death toll from hurricanes has fallen dramatically over the years, thanks to improved warning systems and mitigation strategies, such as B. Dikes that protect against deadly storm surges. Katrina tragically bucked that trend, killing more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest modern U.S. hurricane, Dolin said.
However, populations in developing countries, where warning and storm defense systems may not have improved as much, are likely to be more vulnerable to severe storms. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch killed 9,000 to 11,000 people in Honduras and Nicaragua, Nielsen-Gammon said. Tropical cyclones by other names around the world have claimed even more lives. A 1970 cyclone in Bangladesh had its highest death toll on record: an astronomical 300,000 to 500,000 people died in the low-lying, densely populated country, Nielsen-Gammon said.
Originally published on Live Science.