Hurricanes can do a lot of damage in not a lot of time. As a result, it is natural for people to wonder what the worst hurricanes in the U.S. by financial damage are. Most of these hurricanes have happened in the last couple of decades, which matches up with Live Science's reporting that they are becoming stronger and stronger.
What Are the 20 Worst Hurricanes in U.S. History By Financial Damage?
Here are the 20 worst hurricanes in U.S. history by financial damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
20. Hurricane Betsy (1965) - $13.1 Billion
Hurricane Betsy did less damage than Tropical Storm Allison. However, the latter isn't included on this list because it was a tropical storm that lasted 16 days rather than a true hurricane. Regardless, Betsy is notable in its own right. It did $1.42 billion in damages, which would be $13.1 billion in damages when adjusted for inflation. That made it the first hurricane to do at least $1 billion in damages in the Atlantic basin. On top of this, Betsy's impact on New Orleans is why the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched the Hurricane Protection Program. Specifically, they were ordered to overhaul the region's hurricane protection system. Sadly, History states that this project was just 60 to 90 percent complete by the time that Hurricane Katrina rolled in.
19. Hurricane Agnes (1972) - $14.7 Billion
Speaking of which, Hurricane Agnes broke the record for the costliest hurricane to hit the United States by doing $2.1 billion in damages. Inflation means that would be the equivalent of around $14.7 billion in modern times. Agnes hit Florida, moved inland, re-strengthened itself over North Carolina, moved out onto the ocean, and then hit New York. Subsequently, it hit Canada before turning into an extratropical cyclone that was swallowed up by another extratropical cyclone northwest of Great Britain.
18. Hurricane Frances (2004) - $15.1 Billion
In 2004, Florida was hammered by four hurricanes. The second was Hurricane Frances, which was notable for being both large and slow-moving. This turned out to be a disastrous combination because Frances proceeded to dump a huge amount of water upon the regions that it passed over. Outside of the United States, it was the first hurricane to encompass the whole of the Bahamas since 1928, meaning that it hit that part of the world particularly hard. Frances didn't quite destroy the Bahamas' entire agricultural sector, but it came frighteningly close to doing so.
17. Hurricane Irene (2011) - $17.4 Billion
For a short time in the late 2000s and early 2010s, no hurricane made landfall in the United States. Unfortunately, that streak came to a close with Hurricane Irene, which reached the United States in August of 2011. Together, it inflicted around $14.2 billion in damages to the United States, $830 million in damages to the Caribbean, and $130 million in damages to Canada. With inflation, those numbers are even higher, as shown by how Irene is number 17 on this list because of $17.4 billion in damages.
16. Hurricane Hugo (1989) - $21.1 Billion
Hurricane Hugo had the dubious distinction of being the strongest hurricane to hit the United States in two decades. Unsurprisingly, that meant that it caused a wide range of problems for a wide range of people. As reported by Charleston, Hugo hit South Carolina very hard. More people are known to have died during its aftermath than during its passage. There were a lot of economic losses as well. Just the lost timber in South Carolina was valued at a bit more than $1 billion.
15. Hurricane Charley (2004) - $24.6 Billion
As mentioned earlier, Florida was hit by four hurricanes in 2004. Before Hurricane Frances, there was Hurricane Charley. It hit the state with maximum power, thus making it the strongest hurricane to hit the state since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Charley was an excellent example of the unexpected nature of hurricanes. Initially, the expectation was that it would hit Tampa. A sudden change in its approach caught a lot of people by surprise, which was one of the contributing factors to the damage done. Additionally, Charley's power enabled it to reach further inland. To name an example, the city of Winter Park in Greater Orlando suffered a lot because its heavy oak trees didn't fare well with the high winds. If the Orlando Sentinel is correct, it lost at least 8,000 trees, which were almost a third of the trees on city-owned property.
14. Hurricane Laura (2020) - $26 Billion
Three hurricanes hold the record for being the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the state of Louisiana. Two of those hurricanes can be found on this list. The first of the two would be Hurricane Laura, which hit the United States in 2020. That timing means that responses were often complicated by the need to consider COVID-19.
13. Hurricane Rita (2005) - $27.2 Billion
The 2005 hurricane season is rightfully remembered in the United States because of Hurricane Katrina. Even so, it is important to note that Katrina wasn't the end of that hurricane season. Less than a month later, the United States was struck by Hurricane Rita, which moved through a lot of the same regions as its infamous predecessor. Thanks to that, the situation became worse than it would have been under normal circumstances. Rita caused the waters to top the still damaged levees in New Orleans, though in the end, it caused the most deaths in the state of Texas rather than the state of Louisiana.
12. Hurricane Florence (2018) - $27.8 Billion
In 2018, Hurricane Florence devastated the Carolinas. It was slow-moving, which enabled it to rain on that region for several days. Florence broke rainfall records in a lot of places, so it should come as no surprise to learn that much of the $27.8 billion in damages came from the resulting floods.
11. Hurricane Wilma (2005) - $27.9 Billion
Thus far, Hurricane Wilma is the most intense tropical cyclone known to have happened in the Atlantic basin. However, it loses out to Hurricane Patricia when it comes to the western atmosphere as a whole. Wilma was the last major hurricane to hit the Lower 48 until Hurricane Harvey came along in 2017. Major hurricanes didn't stop during that time. If anything, they were more common than on average. Instead, the United States was just lucky in that major hurricanes either missed it or weakened before hitting for more than a decade. Some of the names on this list might be different if it wasn't for that luck.
10. Hurricane Michael (2018) - $29 Billion
There are just a couple of Category 5 hurricanes on this list. For those who are unfamiliar, Category 5 means that a hurricane is powerful enough that just a few kinds of buildings can expect to come out of the storm intact. Furthermore, that is if those buildings are situated inland because those that are closer to the coast can expect serious water damage to their lower floors. Indeed, a lot of buildings situated closer to the coast will be carried away by the floodwaters. One of the two Category 5 hurricanes would be 2018's Hurricane Michael, which reached that strength just before making landfall close to Mexico Beach, FL. Afterward, that community was described as having been "obliterated" by a CNN anchor, as reported by Newsweek. As for Michael, it became an extratropical cyclone that went on to hit the Iberian Peninsula.
9. Hurricane Ivan (2004) - $31.6 Billion
More than half of the damages done by Hurricane Ivan were done in the United States. Still, it is important to note that the hurricane had a ruinous effect on the Caribbean. Before Ivan, Grenada was expected to see 4.7 percent GDP growth. Following Ivan, the island country experienced an almost 3 percent contraction instead, which was followed by reduced GDP growth in subsequent years. Similarly, 85 percent of the buildings on the Cayman Islands suffered some degree of damage, with either a quarter or more than a quarter of them having been rendered uninhabitable because of that.
8. Hurricane Ike (2008) - $40.2 Billion
It is interesting to note that Hurricane Ike made its effects felt far beyond the state of Texas where it had the greatest impact. This is because the state had to shut a lot of its chemical plants and oil refineries, which brought about a notable increase in the price of gas, natural gas, and home heating oil for some time. Disruptions were particularly bad because Ike swept through the region just a short while after Hurricane Gustav did the same.
7. Hurricane Andrew (1992) - $55.9 Billion
Interested individuals can rank hurricanes by several measurements. If they choose to rank hurricanes based on the number of buildings that have been either damaged or destroyed, Hurricane Andrew would remain the worst hurricane to ever hit the state of Florida. Primarily, this is because it made landfall in South Florida as a Category 5 hurricane. Homestead, FL, and its neighbors took the brunt of the hurricane. Many of its homes were hit so hard that nothing remained other than their concrete foundations.
6. Hurricane Irma (2017) - $59.5 Billion
People might remember the term "Irmageddon," which was invented to describe the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Irma. At the time, it was the most powerful hurricane out on the open Atlantic ever recorded. Since then, Irma has been surpassed in this regard by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. The United States was "lucky" in the sense that the hurricane had already weakened to Category 4 by the name it made landfall there. Despite that, it was estimated at the time as having done at least $50 billion in damages to the country.
5. Hurricane Ida (2021) - $78.7 Billion
Out of the numerous hurricanes that have struck Louisiana, Hurricane Ida is the second-most damaging, falling behind just Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans' levees did their job during this hurricane. Nonetheless, there was widespread infrastructure damage in the state. Unusually, Ida hit New York and New Jersey hard as well. The soil in those states had already been saturated by Tropical Storm Fred and Hurricane Henri, so the result was serious flooding when Ida came rolling in. It was the first time that the National Weather Service's office in New York City had ever issued a flash flood emergency for both northeastern New Jersey and New York City itself.
4. Hurricane Sandy (2012) - $81.9 Billion
Meanwhile, Hurricane Sandy was the worst hurricane of the 2012 hurricane season. There can be no doubt about this because it was responsible for both the most deaths and the most damage. On top of that, Sandy was even the most powerful hurricane of that hurricane season. For proof of its power, it managed to hit 24 U.S. states including the entire eastern seaboard. Furthermore, Sandy even managed to kill a couple of individuals in the Canadian province of Ontario, which isn't exactly the first place that people think of when they think of hurricanes.
3. Hurricane Maria (2017) - $107.1 Billion
Those who care about politics might remember the criticism of the U.S. government's response to Hurricane Maria. It had relatively little effect on the U.S. mainland. In contrast, it killed an estimated 2,975 individuals in Puerto Rico. Combined with the four casualties in the U.S. mainland plus other casualties from other places, that is enough to make Maria the deadliest hurricane of the 21st century so far. The long-lasting consequences can be seen in how 45 percent of Puerto Ricans had no electricity and 14 percent of Puerto Ricans had no tap water three months after the hurricane.
2. Hurricane Harvey (2017) - $148.8 Billion
Hurricane Harvey killed far fewer people than Hurricane Maria. In total, it was responsible for at least 107 deaths compared to Maria's at least 3,059 deaths. Harvey nonetheless managed to cause more damage, most of which came from residential and commercial properties. A lot of people in the state of Texas didn't have the flood insurance that they were supposed to have, which caused them to be hit that much harder.
1. Hurricane Katrina (2005) - $186.3 Billion
Publications such as Vox have claimed that Hurricane Katrina is a reminder of how natural disasters can become much worse when governments fail to prepare and otherwise respond to them properly. Essentially, the idea is that the hurricane would have always had a very negative effect. However, bad performances at multiple levels of government magnified those consequences. A claim that is all too believable considering that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers didn't manage to finish overhauling New Orleans' hurricane protection system by 2005 even though Hurricane Betsy happened in 1965. As a result, water inundated 80 percent of the city plus much of the neighboring parishes for weeks, thus resulting in $186.3 billion in damages when adjusted for inflation.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson