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The Most Damaging Hurricanes in U.S. History - How Does Harvey Stack Up?

William SlusserAug 30, 2017

Hurricane Harvey has been a storm of epic proportions. With its destructive winds and record-shattering rainfall, it is projected to be one of the costliest natural disasters in the history of the United States.

Harvey made landfall in Texas as a powerful Category 4 hurricane but then transitioned to a slow-moving tropical storm, dumping over 50 inches of rain in some areas and causing massive flooding.

As of this reporting, here are some staggering statistics:

  • Estimated damages over $100 billion, with some estimates as high as $190 billion
  • At least 30 people have died and more than 17,000 are in shelters
  • Maximum sustained winds of 130 mph
  • 51.88 inches of rain fell in certain areas – the highest amount in recorded U.S. history

To gain perspective on how these numbers compare to those the U.S. has seen over the last century, we compiled a list of the most damaging hurricanes to date. Using data from NOAA, the below list contains the costliest hurricanes in U.S. history prior to Harvey.

The Costliest Hurricanes in U.S. History

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

20. Opal (October 1995)

  • Estimated Damages: $4.7 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $7.6 billion
  • Deaths: 27
  • Max Winds: 115 mph

In October of 1995, Hurricane Opal struck the Florida panhandle, western Georgia, eastern Tennessee, and parts of the western Carolinas. A Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 115 mph, Opal caused $4.7 billion in damages and 27 people lost their lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

19. Fran (September 1996)

  • Estimated Damages: $5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $8 billion
  • Deaths: 37
  • Max Winds: 115 mph

Hurricane Fran was a Category 3 hurricane with wind speeds up to 115 mph. In September of 1996, Fran dropped 10 inches of rain in a single 24 hour period, causing major agricultural damage to parts of North Carolina and Virginia, resulting in $5 billion in damages and the loss of 37 lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

18. Isabel (September 2003)

  • Estimated Damages: $5.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $7.4 billion
  • Deaths: 55
  • Max Winds: 104 mph

In September of 2003, Hurricane Isabel made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 2 hurricane, causing major storm surge damage and flooding all along the eastern seaboard. Isabel’s wind speeds topped 104 mph, caused $5.5 billion in damages, and resulted in the loss of 55 lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

17. Gustav (September 2008)

  • Estimated Damages: $6 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $7 billion
  • Deaths: 53
  • Max Winds: 104 mph

Louisiana bore the brunt of Hurricane Gustav, a Category 2 hurricane which made landfall in September of 2008. Gustav caused enormous destruction from wind, storm surge, and widespread flooding, which resulted in the loss of 53 lives and $6 billion in damages.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

16. Georges (September 1998)

  • Estimated Damages: $6 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $9.1 billion
  • Deaths: 16
  • Max Winds: 104 mph

In September of 2008, Hurricane Georges struck Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, the Florida Keys, and states along the Gulf Coast and the Florida panhandle. A Category 2 hurricane with winds in excess of 104 mph, Georges caused $6 billion in damages and resulted in the loss of 16 lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

15. Floyd (September 1999)

  • Estimated Damages: $6.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $9.7 billion
  • Deaths: 77
  • Max Winds: 104 mph

A Category 2 hurricane, Hurricane Floyd caused severe flooding when it struck eastern North Carolina in September of 1999. Additional flooding occurred all along the East coast due to Floyd’s 20 inches of rain and 104 mph winds, causing $6.5 billion in damages and the loss of 77 lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

14. Jeanne (September 2004)

  • Estimated Damages: $7.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $9.9 billion
  • Deaths: 28
  • Max Winds: 121 mph

Hurricane Jeanne struck east-central Florida in September 2004 as a Category 3 hurricane. Jeanne’s 121 mph winds caused considerable wind, storm surge and flooding damage, resulting in a loss of $7.5 billion and 28 lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

13. Tropical Storm Allison (June 2001)

  • Estimated Damages: $8.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $11.9 billion
  • Deaths: 43

Tropical Storm Allison wreaked her havoc on portions of coastal Texas and Louisiana in June of 2001. Producing rainfall between 30-40 inches, Allison caused severe flooding, especially in the Houston area. Total damages topped $8.5 billion and 43 people lost their lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

12. Hugo (September 1989)

  • Estimated Damages: $9 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $18.2 billion
  • Deaths: 86
  • Max Winds: 138 mph

In September of 1989, a Category 4 Hurricane Hugo devastated North and South Carolina, after it struck Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hugo’s 138 mph winds caused 20 foot storm surges and severe wind damage, resulting in the loss of 86 lives and $9 billion in damages.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

11. Frances (September 2004)

  • Estimated Damages: $9.8 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $12.9 billion
  • Deaths: 48
  • Max Winds: 104 mph

Hurricane Frances, a Category 2 hurricane, dropped 5-15 inches of rain on east-central Florida when it made landfall in September of 2004. Along with its 104 mph winds, Frances caused significant storm surge and flooding damage all along the eastern seaboard, resulting in the loss of 48 lives and $9.8 billion in damages.

Photo Credit: Public Domain Pictures

10. Matthew (October 2016)

  • Estimated Damages: $10 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $10.3 billion
  • Deaths: 49
  • Max Winds: 98 mph

In October of 2016, from Florida to North Carolina, Hurricane Matthew caused widespread damage from wind, storm surge and inland flooding. Over 100,000 homes, businesses and other structures were damaged in the storm, resulting in a loss of $10 billion. In addition, 49 people lost their lives.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

9. Irene (August 2011)

  • Estimated Damages: $13.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $15 billion
  • Deaths: 45
  • Max Winds: 86 mph

Hurricane Irene, a Category 1 hurricane, made landfall over coastal North Carolina and moved northward, producing torrential rainfall and massive flooding across the entire Northeast. Over 7 million homes and businesses lost power in the storm. Forty-five people lost their lives and the total damage amounted to $13.5 billion.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

8. Charley (August 2004)

  • Estimated Damages: $16 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $21.1 billion
  • Deaths: 35
  • Max Winds: 150 mph

In August of 2004, Hurricane Charley, a Category 4 hurricane, made landfall in southwest Florida, causing major wind and storm surge damage. There was also significant collateral damage in North and South Carolina. Charley’s devastating winds topped 150 mph, resulting in a loss of 35 lives and $16 billion.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

7. Rita (September 2005)

  • Estimated Damages: $18.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $23.7 billion
  • Deaths: 119
  • Max Winds: 115 mph

A Category 3 hurricane, Hurricane Rita struck the Texas-Louisiana coastal border in September of 2005. Prior to making landfall, Rita recorded the third lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin (897 mb). The results were devastating – 115 mph winds, 119 lives lost, $18.5 billion in losses, and massive storm surge and flooding damage.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

6. Wilma (October 2005)

  • Estimated Damages: $19 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $24.3 billion
  • Deaths: 35
  • Max Winds: 121 mph

Hurricane Wilma struck the southwest coast of Florida as a Category 3 hurricane in October of 2005. Prior to reaching land, Wilma was designated as a Category 5 storm and reached the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin (882 mb). Responsible for widespread flooding and storm surge damage, Wilma caused 35 people to lose their lives and inflicted $19 billion in damage.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

5. Ivan (September 2004)

  • Estimated Damages: $20.5 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $27.1 billion
  • Deaths: 57
  • Max Winds: 121 mph

Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 hurricane, made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Alabama in September of 2008. Responsible for major wind, storm surge and flooding damage, Ivan later impacted states all along the east coast and even into the Midwest. At their peak, Ivan’s winds reached 121 mph, resulting in the loss of 57 lives and causing $20.5 billion in damage.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

4. Andrew (August 1992)

  • Estimated Damages: $27 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $47.8 billion
  • Deaths: 61
  • Max Winds: 167 mph

In August of 1992, a Category 5 hurricane named Andrew wreaked havoc on Florida and later caused widespread damage in Louisiana as well. Andrew also has the distinction of being one of only three Category 5 hurricanes ever to make landfall on American soil. The results were catastrophic – 167 mph winds, 61 lives lost, 125,000 homes destroyed, 160,000 people left homeless, and $27 billion in damages.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

3. Ike (September 2008)

  • Estimated Damages: $30 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $34.8 billion
  • Deaths: 112
  • Max Winds: 109 mph

The largest Atlantic hurricane on record (in size), Hurricane Ike was a Category 2 hurricane when it made landfall over coastal Texas in September of 2008. Ike caused significant flooding and storm surge devastation, in addition to damage to oil platforms, storage tanks, pipelines and refineries, which caused a spike in national gasoline prices. The final cost – 112 lives lost and $30 billion in damage.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

2. Sandy (October 2012)

  • Estimated Damages: $65 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $70.2 billion
  • Deaths: 159
  • Max Winds: 75 mph

In October of 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused massive destruction along the eastern seaboard due to its heavy winds and rain, and then it merged with a Nor’easter winter storm, which only increased its devastating power. Major population centers were without electricity and water, and The New York Stock Exchange closed for two consecutive business days – something that had last occurred in 1888. Sandy’s final cost – 159 lives lost and $65 billion in damage.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1. Katrina (August 2005)

  • Estimated Damages: $125 billion
  • Estimated Damages (inflation-adjusted): $160 billion
  • Deaths: 1,833
  • Max Winds: 127 mph

Hurricane Katrina began its destructive path across the U.S. as a Category 1 hurricane near Miami, Florida. Growing in intensity and strength, it was a Category 3 hurricane when it made landfall along the Louisiana and Missouri coastlines where it caused severe wind and storm surge damage. It also caused the levee system in New Orleans to fail, resulting in massive flooding and property destruction. Katrina’s final destructive toll – 1,883 lives lost and $160 billion in damage.

Methodology

Data was sourced from NOAA and was last updated in July of 2017. Only hurricanes that struck the mainland U.S. were included in this report. Estimated damages are shown in actual as well as inflation-adjusted dollar amounts. Estimated damages for each storm are calculated by NOAA using a variety of sources and represent “the costs in terms of dollars that would not have been incurred had the event not taken place.”