The country is no stranger to extreme weather events.
In September, Hurricane Ian leveled communities in Florida. The Category 4 storm left behind carnage; residents are still picking up the pieces of their lives. Reports of the aftermath are heartbreaking, and it will take the state months to bounce back.
As unfortunate as it sounds, the U.S. is no stranger to extreme weather events—all eyes turn to the weather gods during the hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). There have been more than 300 hurricanes that have hit the coastline since 1851, and 80% have landed in Florida, Texas, and Louisiana.
Hurricanes are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (1 to 5). Categories 1 and 2 can also cause major damage and power outages, but Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes. Categories 4 and 5 storms are catastrophic, with 130-156 mph sustained winds for the former and 157+ mph sustained winds for the latter. Category 5 storms are rare—only four such powerful storms have made landfall in the U.S. Ian was the ninth category 4 or 5 storm to hit the mainland U.S. in the last five decades.
Extreme weather events are happening more frequently and causing more damage than before. Scientists have been researching the impact of a warming planet on hurricanes. A NASA report explains causation, “Due to global warming, global climate models predict hurricanes will likely cause more intense rainfall and have an increased coastal flood risk due to higher storm surge caused by rising seas.”
Below, you will read about the most devastating hurricanes to reach the U.S. This is by no means an exhaustive list.
Hurricane Ian, 2022
WHERE: Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina
The Category 4 storm (sustained wind speeds of 150 mph) made landfall in Florida on September 28, 2022. It caused more than 100 deaths in Florida and four in North Carolina. Houses flooded, roofs collapsed, and bridges and trees crumbled. The damages in Florida and the Carolinas are expected to be as much as $75 billion, making it one of the costliest storms in the U.S. Weeks after the storm, cleanup continues.
Hurricane Harvey, 2017
WHERE: Texas and Louisiana
Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane that flooded Texas and Louisiana by dumping 27 trillion gallons of rain in six days. It is counted amongst the costliest cyclones—second after Katrina—and caused $148 billion worth of damage. Houston was severely flooded; at least 89 people died, and flooding displaced over 30,000.
Hurricane Maria, 2017
WHERE: Puerto Rico
Just a month later, Category 4 Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico. It was one of the deadliest storms to hit the U.S. Originally, the death toll was underreported by the government, with 64 deaths. After an independent investigation, the number was revised to 2,975, while experts believe it could be as high as 4,500. The hurricane caused widespread flooding on the island and caused one of the longest blackouts in the history of the U.S.
Lack of power (including no oxygen in hospitals), lack of cell phone service, and unavailability of clean drinking water added to the death toll, and indirect casualties continued in the months after the hurricane. The damage from Maria also crossed $100 billion.
Hurricane Sandy, 2012
WHERE: East Coast States
A Category 1 storm, Superstorm Sandy caused at least 147 deaths in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It was the fourth-costliest storm in U.S. history, causing more than $80 billion in damages. Although it impacted 24 states in the U.S., New York, and New Jersey were severely affected—more than 340,000 homes were damaged, and millions experienced power failures. Fires also broke out and ravaged homes. A state of emergency was declared in states, subway and airports shut down, and Broadway and New York Stock Exchange closed.
Hurricane Katrina, 2005
WHERE: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama
The costliest hurricane on record is Hurricane Katrina. It reached top winds of 175 mph, but as it made landfall in Louisiana, it had weakened into a Category 3 storm. It destroyed New Orleans, killed more than 1,800 people, and damaged 275,000 homes. The damages were more than $186 billion.
Hurricane Camille, 1969
Camille is one of the four Category 5 storms in the U.S. (others being the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Michael in 2018). The maximum sustained winds are unknown because it destroyed measuring instruments when it made landfall, but it is known to be the second-most intense hurricane on record to reach the U.S. Around 256 people lost their lives due to rainfall, winds, and flooding.
Labor Day Hurricane, 1935
The most intense hurricane on record to hit the U.S. is the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935. It was a Category 5 storm that hit the Florida Keys and claimed 408 lives, most of whom were World War I veterans building roads as part of a federal relief project. A train sent to evacuate them was derailed by the powerful storm.
San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane, 1928
WHERE: Florida and Puerto Rico
Another devastating Category 4 hurricane to surge through Florida was the San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane that flooded Lake Okeechobee. More than 1,800 people died in Florida, while 312 died in Puerto Rico.
Great Miami Hurricane, 1926
Florida experienced a devastating Category 4 storm in 1926. It is estimated that 373 people perished; many died when venturing out into the eye of the storm, without realizing that the hurricane hadn’t passed. Today, the damages would have cost $90 billion, and even back then, it swallowed the flourishing economy of South Florida.
The Great Galveston Hurricane, 1900
This was the deadliest hurricane ever to hit the U.S. Since there were no warning systems back then, the city was caught unawares. It was a Category 4 storm that claimed between 10,000 and 12,000 lives; most died by drowning when the island was inundated. Galveston was the most advanced city in Texas at the time, with multiple millionaire mansions, was destroyed in days and forever changed its trajectory.
The city was rebuilt by its residents. A 17-foot seawall was erected to prevent another such calamity, which has now become a tourist attraction, and a massive project of grade-raising was undertaken. More than 2,000 buildings were raised by pumping sand, an impressive engineering marvel in that era.