The 20 Costliest, Most Destructive Hurricanes to Hit the US
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Deadly and expensiveIt's too soon to say how much damage Hurricane Harvey inflicted on Houston in late August, but the total will likely be astounding.
Harvey will hardly be the first storm to cause destruction, however: Since 1965, at least 27 hurricanes have each resulted in damages of $1 billion or more, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
In a 2011 report, NOAA tallied "the deadliest, costliest and most intense" hurricanes to hit the United States from 1851 to 2010. These tallies are not adjusted for inflation but show just how expensive these storms can be.
Read on to see the 20 costliest and most damaging hurricanes to hit the United States in recorded history, according to NOAA.
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No. 20: Agnes, 1972Agnes, the first named storm of the 1972 hurricane season, reached hurricane strength on June 18, over the Gulf of Mexico. It made landfall on June 19 in Florida as a Category 1 hurricane with wind speeds measuring 74 mph (119 km/h), but its impact grew more dramatic after it traveled northward. On June 23, Agnes combined with a low-pressure system to bring drenching rainfall of up to 14 inches (35 centimeters) to states along the U.S.' northeastern coast, with up to 19 inches (48 cm) soaking parts of western Pennsylvania.
Though Agnes was considered a "weak" storm by hurricane standards, the damage caused by its floodwaters was considerable. By the time the storm dissipated, on June 25, severe flooding from the Carolinas to New York had caused 122 deaths and made Agnes the costliest hurricane to date.
Total damage: $2.1 billion
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No. 19: Frederic, 1979Frederic made landfall on Dauphin Island, Alabama, on Sept. 12, 1979, as a Category 3 hurricane, with peak wind speeds of 145 mph (233 km/h). The storm's high-speed gusts downed trees and destroyed structures across Alabama and Mississippi, leading to blocked roads and causing power outages that lasted for weeks in some areas. A storm surge of 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 m) caused damage to buildings that extended for 80 miles (129 km) along the Alabama coast.
Approximately 500,000 people were evacuated from the central Gulf Coast region ahead of the hurricane. Though the storm caused five deaths, a report generated Sept. 13, 1979, by NOAA praised agencies and volunteers for the evacuation efforts responsible for keeping many people safe, saying that their actions "undoubtedly saved hundreds of lives."
Total damage: $2.3 billion
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No. 18: Dennis, 2005Dennis roared into Cuba on July 8, 2005, with winds gusting up to 145 mph (233 km/h). It weakened briefly, but then regained hurricane strength over the Gulf of Mexico. It touched down in western Florida on July 10 as a Category 3 hurricane, with peak wind speeds of 121 mph (195 km/h). After crossing into southwestern Alabama, Dennis weakened to a tropical storm and continued northward.
The relatively small and fast-moving storm produced less rainfall than other major hurricanes, averaging about 3 to 5 inches (8 to 12 cm) in most of the region it affected. Much of northwest Florida's cotton crop suffered damage due to high winds and rain, and two U.S. Air Force bases in Florida reported storm damage totaling more than half a billion dollars, the NWS reported. Three people died as a result of the storm, and their deaths were due to improper use of electrical generators, according to the NWS.
Total damage $2.55 billion
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No. 17: Georges, 1998Over Georges' 17-day life span, the storm made landfall seven times from the Caribbean to Mississippi and caused 602 deaths, mostly in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, according to a report produced by the National Hurricane Center.
Georges struck Key West, Florida, on Sept. 25, 1998, as a Category 2 hurricane, with maximum wind speeds of 104 mph (167 km/h). The storm maintained Category 2 strength as it moved through the Gulf of Mexico to make landfall again in Alabama on Sept. 28, with gusts reaching speeds of 110 mph (177 km/h). It brought storm surges that reached heights of 12 feet (4 m) in Alabama, and up to 10 feet (3 m) in Florida, and dumped rainfall measuring an average of 10 to 20 inches (25 to 51 cm) over southern Mississippi and Alabama, leading to widespread river flooding that inundated homes and led to evacuations.
Agricultural devastation in the affected regions was significant; entire crops of soybeans, cotton and pecans were almost completely wiped out, the NWS reported.
Total damage: $2.77 billion
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No. 16: Fran, 1996Hurricane Fran, the second major hurricane to strike North Carolina during the 1996 hurricane season, caused so much damage that its name was officially retired from the hurricane name list, according to the NWS. Though North Carolina bore the brunt of the storm's damage, Fran also affected states from South Carolina to Ohio, and extended eastward into Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Fran made landfall at Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Sept. 5, 1996, with sustained wind speeds of 115 mph (185 km/h) that later peaked at 137 mph (220 km/h), battering a region already reeling from Bertha, a Category 2 hurricane that struck two months earlier.
In North Carolina, storm surges measuring as high as 12 feet (4 m) eroded the coastline, washed away beaches and destroyed buildings along the waterfront. Winds downed trees and knocked out power lines, leaving millions of people without electricity. Flooding in Virginia closed roads, destroyed hundreds of homes, and left more than 400,000 people without power. The storm caused 26 deaths, most of which were the result of falling trees, the NWS reported.
Total damage: $4.16 billion
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No. 15: Gustav, 2008Gustav formed in the Caribbean as a tropical storm on Aug. 25, 2008, reaching hurricane strength as it hurtled toward Louisiana. An estimated 1.9 million people evacuated southern Louisiana between Aug. 29 and Aug. 31 in anticipation of Gustav, the NWS reported.
The storm made landfall in Louisiana on Sept. 1 as a Category 2 hurricane. Gustav's sustained wind speeds of 110 mph (177 km/h) toppled trees and power lines, damaging homes and other structures, and causing the deaths of three people. Storm surges flooded parts of Mississippi and Louisiana, reaching heights of 12 feet (4 m), and heavy rains soaked the region, with reports of 8 to 11 inches (20 to 28 cm) falling between Aug. 31 and Sept. 3.
Total damage: $4.62 billion
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No. 14: Opal, 1995Falling trees caused by Hurricane Opal killed nine people in the U.S., and the storm's heavy rains and flooding claimed the lives of 50 people in Mexico and Guatemala.
Opal became a hurricane on Oct. 2, 1995, making landfall in Florida on Oct. 4 as a Category 3 hurricane with gusts reaching 115 mph (185 km/h). Alarmed by Opal's rapid intensification on the morning of Oct. 4, thousands of Gulf Coast residents evacuated all at once, leading to gridlock on major highways. Storm surges reached heights of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 m), destroying and damaging more than 1,000 homes and nearly 1,000 boats, and devastating infrastructure in coastal Florida.
Strong winds also damaged and destroyed properties in southern Alabama, and caused an estimated $25 million in damage to trees in the Conecuh National Forest in Andalusia, Alabama.
Total damage: $5.14 billion
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No. 13: Isabel, 2003Isabel struck the U.S. on Sept. 18, 2003, making landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane with sustained winds close to 100 mph (161 km/h), and bringing storm surges of up to 8 feet (2.4 m) high that flooded rivers, destroying and damaging homes and other buildings.
The storm caused 51 deaths, and a combination of strong winds and ground saturated by rainfall led to numerous toppled trees and power lines, leaving over 4 million people without electricity.
Total damage: $5.37 billion
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No. 12: Floyd, 1999Floyd, a large and intense hurricane, made landfall at Cape Fear, North Carolina, on Sept. 16, 1999. After touching down as a Category 2 hurricane with maximum winds of 105 mph (169 km/h) and a storm surge reaching 15 feet (5 m), Floyd traveled north over North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, briefly returned to the Atlantic, and reached Long Island, New York, on Sept. 17.
As much as 15 to 20 inches (38 to 51 cm) of rainfall drenched parts of North Carolina and Virginia, according to the NWS. The new rainfall swelled existing rain accumulations deposited by a tropical storm two weeks earlier, leading to catastrophic and widespread flooding.
Floyd also produced at least 10 tornadoes in North Carolina, and was responsible for 56 deaths in the U.S.
Total damage: $6.9 billion
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No. 11: Hugo, 1989Hugo passed over the eastern part of Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 19, 1989. It made landfall north of Charleston, South Carolina, on Sept. 22 while still at Category 4 strength, with sustained winds of 104 mph (167 km/h), gusts up to 120 mph (193 km/h) and storm tides of 20 feet (6 m).
Hugo's speed and large size brought powerful winds 200 miles (322 km) inland, reaching areas that are usually spared the brunt of coastal hurricanes, with winds gusting up to 100 mph howling through Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the NWS.
Total damage: $7 billion
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No. 10: Jeanne, 2004The eye at the center of Hurricane Jeanne was 50 miles (80 km) wide when the storm made landfall on Florida's eastern coast on Sept. 26, 2004, as a Category 3 hurricane, with peak winds estimated at 120 mph (193 km/h).
Jeanne brought storm surges reaching heights of more than 3 feet (1 m) on Florida's western coast. The storm also soaked Florida with rainfall up to about 8 inches (20 cm) across the state, with as much as 13 inches (33 cm) reported in some areas.
Prior to striking Florida, Jeanne's torrential rains caused severe flooding and mudslides in Haiti, leading to an estimated 3,000 deaths and leaving approximately 200,000 homeless, the National Hurricane Center reported in 2005.
Total damage: $7.66 billion
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No. 9: Allison, 2001Allison formed as a tropical storm on June 5, 2001, in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas, making landfall later that day. Though Allison never reached hurricane strength, the storm stalled over the region, bringing four days of heavy rainfall — for 10 hours at a stretch, in some locations — leading to devastating flooding across southern Texas, particularly in Houston.
On June 9, Allison returned to the Gulf of Mexico, and then made landfall again on June 10 in Louisiana, bringing heavy rains and flooding to Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, before dissipating on June 18 off the coast of New England.
In some parts of Texas, Allison deposited over 38 inches (96 cm) of rain, inundating highways and affecting 22 million people in the Houston area, according to a report published in 2011 by the National Weather Service (NWS). The storm also spawned 23 tornadoes and caused 41 deaths and, at the time, was the costliest hurricane on record in the U.S., officials with NOAA reported.
Total damage: $9 billion
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No. 8: Hurricane Frances, 2004When Frances hit Stuart, Florida, just after midnight on Sept. 5, 2004, its winds were blowing at 105 mph (169) km/h), making it a Category 2 hurricane. It killed seven people in the United States.
However, Frances weakened as it churned across Florida's peninsula, and it dropped to tropical storm status just before entering the Gulf of Mexico on Sept. 6. The storm then headed back toward land, hitting Florida's Big Bend region that afternoon, before eventually weakening into an extratropical storm over West Virginia on Sept. 9.
Frances didn't leave the country without making its mark. It produced an almost 6-foot (1.8 m) storm surge above normal levels in Florida, dropped 18.07 inches (46 cm) of rain on Linville Falls, North Carolina, and produced more than 100 tornadoes through the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
Total damage: $9.51 billion
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No. 7: Hurricane Rita, 2005Rita, a Category 5 hurricane, ripped apart parts of Texas and Louisiana and damaged the Florida Keys. It was responsible for seven deaths in the United States.
As it traveled northward through the Gulf of Mexico, Rita rapidly jumped from a Category 2 to a Category 5 hurricane in about 24 hours. But it was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall on Sept. 24, 2005, just east of the Texas-Louisiana border, with winds of 115 mph (185 km/h).
It caused storm-surge flooding of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m) above normal tide levels in Louisiana, caused a surge in Texas' Lake Livingston, and flooded parts of New Orleans that had just been flooded by Katrina the month before.
Rita brought 5 to 9 inches (13 to 23 centimeters) of rain to Louisiana and Texas, and spawned about 90 tornadoes across the southern United States.
Total damage: $12.04 billion
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No. 6: Hurricane Charley, 2004Charley was a small but fierce hurricane that hit southwestern Florida in August 2004. It killed 10 people in the United States.
Charley sped toward southwestern Florida, intensifying to Category 4 status with 150 mph (241 km/h) winds on Aug. 13. It passed dangerously close to Orlando, and finally exited the state near Daytona Beach. Charley weakened after moving into the Atlantic, and hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 14 before dropping to tropical storm status as it hit North Carolina on Aug. 15.
Charley was small; its fastest wind speeds were located just 7 miles (11 km) from the storm's center, which lessened the storm surge to just 7 feet (2.1 m). But the hurricane's violent winds overwhelmed Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte in Florida. It also produced 16 tornadoes in Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.
Total damage: $15.11 billion
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No. 5: Hurricane Ivan, 2004Category 3 Hurricane Ivan blew through Florida and Alabama in September 2004, killing 25 people in the United States.
Ivan made landfall just west of Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Sept. 16, with its winds blowing at nearly 120 mph (193 km/h). It weakened as it moved inland but managed to produce more than 100 tornadoes and heavy rains across the southeastern United States.
The hurricane then went back to sea in the Atlantic, looped around and re-entered the country in southern Florida. Then, it crossed to the Gulf of Mexico and finally petered out after hitting southwestern Louisiana as a tropical depression on Sept. 24.
Total damage: $18.82 billion
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No. 4: Hurricane Wilma, 2005Wilma hit on Oct. 24, 2005, relatively late in the hurricane season.
The Category 3 hurricane crossed the Florida Peninsula in 5 hours, killing five people in the state as the storm blasted northeastward. Lake Okeechobee recorded 92 mph (148 km/h) winds with a gust at 112 mph (180 km/h). Wilma also created 10 tornadoes as it passed through Florida.
Wilma left the state and passed through the western Atlantic, weakened and eventually reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Oct. 25.
Total damage: $21 billion
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No. 3: Hurricane Andrew, 1992Hurricane Andrew was the United States' third-costliest hurricane. It is responsible for 23 deaths in the country.
Andrew shot across southern Florida on Aug. 24, 1992, as a Category 5 hurricane. Private barometers measured its pressure at 23.23 pounds per square inch when it made landfall in Homestead, Florida, making it, in that instant, the third most intense hurricane to hit the U.S. Wind speeds reached as high as 177 mph (284 km/h).
Andrew led to a 17-foot (5.1 m) storm surge near its landfall spot in Florida. After leaving Florida, Andrew headed to the Gulf of Mexico, where it turned northward and hit Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane on Aug. 26, drowning the state's coastlines with 8-foot (2.4 m) storm tides. Andrew also created a tornado that struck southeastern Louisiana, killing two people and injuring 32 others.
Total damage: $26.5 billion
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No. 2: Hurricane Ike, 2008Hurricane Ike was the nation's second-costliest hurricane. Ike was directly responsible for the deaths of 21 people in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. It was directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least 28 people in eight other states, according to a 2011 estimate from NOAA.
Ike made landfall on Galveston Island on Sept. 13, 2008, as a Category 2 hurricane, with wind speeds of 110 mph (177 km/h). It crashed through eastern Texas and Arkansas, weakened over the Mississippi Valley on Sept. 14, and blew wind gusts of hurricane force through the Ohio Valley and into Canada. Ike prompted the evacuation of nearly 15,000 tourists from the Florida Keys and caused 2.6 million people to lose power in Texas and Louisiana and Texas, and another 2.6 million to lose power in Ohio. The Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Bay areas of Texas were inundated with storm surges of 15 to 20 feet (4.5 to 6 m). Ike also brought 19 inches (48 centimeters) of rain to southeastern Texas.
Total damage: $29.52 billion
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No. 1: Hurricane Katrina, 2005Hurricane Katrina was the most destructive hurricane on record to hit the United States. It directly killed approximately 1,200 people, making it the third-deadliest hurricane in U.S. history. (Earlier estimates put fatalities at 1,500 people, but some of these deaths were indirectly related to the storm, NOAA officials said. Direct causes of death included drowning, a flood-related injury and heat exposure, according to a 2008 report.)
Katrina became a hurricane just before making landfall by the Miami-Dade County line in Florida on Aug. 25, 2005. The hurricane then moved across southern Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, where it strengthened into a Category 5 hurricane on Aug. 28, reaching wind speeds of 175 mph (281 km/h).
As it moved toward Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29, it weakened into a Category 3 storm, with wind speeds of 125 mph (201 km/h). Even so, Katrina produced 33 tornadoes, and its storm surge caused waters up to 28 feet (8.5 meters) above normal tide level along Mississippi and up to 20 feet (6 m) above normal levels in Louisiana. This storm surge notoriously breached New Orleans' levies on Aug. 29, flooding 75 percent of the city.
Total damage: $108 billion