The Most Destructive Storms in US History

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Residents along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina faced hurricane-force winds and life-threatening storm surge this week after Hurricane Ian made its first landfall west of Fort Myers, Florida, on Wednesday. The Tampa Bay and St. Petersburg areas are also experiencing severe flooding and hurricane winds. 

Many of the region’s more than 4 million residents live in low-lying neighborhoods that are vulnerable to storm surge. According to the American Red Cross, more than 33,000 people sought refuge in 260 evacuation shelters across Florida to escape Ian on Wednesday night.

Hurricane Ian follows after a series of recent horrific climate disasters. Since the start of June and the hurricane season, unusually heavy monsoon rains caused historic floods in Pakistan, Hurricane Fiona brought destruction to Puerto Rico and Atlantic Canada, the worst drought in 500 years started wreaking havoc in Europe, and unprecedented heat waves dried up rivers in China, affecting 900 million people.

Due in large part to atmospheric warming caused by emissions from human activities, once-in-a-life-time weather events are occurring regularly and with increasing frequency all around the world, including the United States. (These are countries facing the worst climate emergencies.)

According to a July study by international scientists in Nature Climate Change, the annual number of cyclones forming globally is decreasing significantly under global warming. However, the intensity of tropical storms is rising, and some are moving at slower speeds, elevating the risk of damage to coastal communities. And while enforcing building codes, investing in hurricane resistant design techniques, and other infrastructure improvements can help mitigate storm damage — there is no such thing as a hurricane-proof home. 

Of the 51 most costly storms in U.S. history, 28 – including the top 10 – have occurred in the last 20 years. Based on recent estimates that Hurricane Ian has already caused over $100 billion in damage, the Category 4 storm is likely to also rank among the most costly tropical cyclones in U.S. history. Hurricane Katrina, which caused over 1,800 fatalities and $186.3 billion in damages to New Orleans and the surrounding area in August 2005, is the most costly storm in U.S. history. (Find out if Hurricane Katrina is among the deadliest billion dollar natural disasters in U.S. history.)

To identify the costliest U.S. tropical cyclones, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the cost of hurricanes throughout history, estimated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Both the inflation-adjusted (using 2022 consumer price index) and unadjusted cost of each storm came from the report. The estimated number of deaths associated with each storm was obtained from news reports.

Click here to see the costliest U.S. tropical cyclones in the US.