A hurricane begins innocently enough in the ocean, in water so warm that it clocks in warmer than 80 degrees up to 150 feet down. Add in a warm breeze that skims the top of the water and begins to transform it into water vapor. That vapor rises into the air, carried by tropical winds. A tropical disturbance occurs when that water vapor condenses into a cyclical cloud. From there, a complicated process of heating and cooling forces these clouds and the wind carrying them to spawn thunderstorms and fierce winds. If the conditions are right, that simple patch of warm ocean water can hit land as the most powerful storm on Earth, a hurricane. Though hurricanes can only form in a select area of the planet, the Southeastern United States is right in that path. These massive tropical storms have been ravaging the east coast of the US since the country’s creation. Here, for your consideration, are some of the most destructive hurricane that have made landfall in the United States of America.
15. Hurricane Rita
At first, meteorologists weren’t expecting Hurricane Rita to make much noise. When it hit land in 2005, it only clocked in as a Category 2 hurricane. In a short, destructive 24 hours, however, Rita transformed into a devastating Category 5 hurricane. The rivers and lakes in Texas rose more than 10 feet. Parts of New Orleans were completely flooded (and that just a month after Hurricane Katrina).
14. Hurricane Ivan
At a cost of nearly $20 billion in damage and twenty-five lives, Hurricane Ivan was not to be messed around with when hit Gulf Shores in 2004. When it made landfall, the Ivan’s winds were gusting at nearly 120 mph. Though it dissipated after hitting the United States, Ivan proved to be something of a fatherly storm, ultimately generating more than 100 tornadoes that spiraled out in its wake.
13. Hurricane Wilma
With a name beginning in ‘W’, you might suspect that Hurricane Wilma showed up late in the season. You’d be right. Just because Wilma was late to the party, however, didn’t stop the hurricane from wreaking severe havoc. In 2005, it took a mere five hours for Hurricane Willma to sweep across the Florida peninsula and claim 5 lives. Though the storm pass through Florida and weakened relatively quickly, there was still enough force behind Wilma to reach all the way to Nova Scotia.
12. Hurricane Ike
When Ike first made landfall in Galveston, Texas in 2008, it was a mere Category 2 hurricane. That may not sound like much compared to the storms that have ravaged the Gulf Coast in recent years, but Ike still did some work. In the end, 21 people lost their lives and nearly $30 billion in damage had been done to Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
11. Hurricane Charley
The strongest hurricane to hit American shores since 1992, 2004’s Hurricane Charley smashed into Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda, continuing across central Florida. Even in Orlando, gusts reached above 100 miles an hour. Not to be discouraged, Charley eventually turned into a severe tornado that hit Daytona Beach causing serious havoc. By the time it was said and done, Charley cost the taxpayers $15 billion and killed around 10 United States citizens.
10. The 1938 Hurricane
It wasn’t until 1953 that the US government finally decided to begin naming hurricanes after vengeful ladies. For the prior two years they’d tried naming them after the phonetic alphabet, but that proved too confusing. Before that, hurricanes weren’t named at all. That’s why the storm that hit the US in 1938 is simply referred to as the 1938 hurricane. In September of that year, the tropical cyclone arrived in Long Island, raising the waters and washing out more than 150 Westhampton homes. Gusts exceeded 180 miles an hour in Boston, and the water in Providence rose to 14 feet before receding. Ultimately, 256 people were killed.
9. Superstorm Sandy
Technically speaking, the storm that wrecked New Jersey and New York in 2012 isn’t a hurricane. Sandy was re-designated a Superstorm when it crossed the threshold from the warm tropical environs that denote a hurricane and kept picking up steam into the cooler region of the Pacific Northwest. Just because it’s not technically a “hurricane,” however, doesn’t diminish the impact of this terrible storm. The flooding was so severe that ultimately 41 people lost their lives. Another 31 people died in tangentially-related accidents.
8. The Labor Day Hurricane
In the entirety of the United States’ recorded storm history the most intense storm ever to make landfall was the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane, a Category 5 storm that seemed determined to hit the Florida Keys. As it passed over the Bahamas on September 1 of 1935, the hurricane was a small Category 1. In the space between those two island chains, however, the storm swelled rapidly, reaching the highest designation for a hurricane swiftly, sustaining winds up to 185 miles per hour. More than 400 people died in the resulting catastrophe.
7. The Lake Okeechobee Hurricane
In 1928, a Category 5 hurricane hit the United States, causing Florida’s Lake Okeechobee to overflow, drowning the surrounding area in 15 feet of water. Dozens of houses were swept away and at least 2,500 people were thought to have drowned in the chaos. (Some estimates put that number closer to three thousand.) Fortunately, as the storm system crossed the Sunshine State it rapidly diminished, sparing the rest of the state.
6. Hurricane Camille
For all intents and purposes, it’s possible that 1969’s Hurricane Camille is the most powerful hurricane ever to hit the United States. We’ll never know, because all of the equipment that typically measures wind speed was destroyed as Camille rolled over the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. In its path, the storm caused the Mississippi River to rise to 24 feet. More than 140 people died as a result of Camille’s landing. Another 100-plus people died in the floods that were so severe they reached to Virginia.
5. Hurricane Andrew
In terms of overall diameter, Hurricane Andrew wasn’t the largest hurricane to hit the United States, but it still managed to cause a huge swath of damage throughout the Southeast US in 1992. When it struck Florida, the winds were registered at Category 5; Andrew decimated the state, destroying 127,000 homes and incurring a cost of more than $26 billion. After it wreaked havoc in Florida, it crossed the Gulf and slammed into Louisiana as a Category 3 causing millions more in damage.
4. The Miami Hurricane of 1926
Downtown Miami was the target of this incredibly destructive hurricane that swept across the city in 1926. Of course, the biggest contributing factor to the loss of life might have been ignorance itself. When the Miami Hurricane entered the city, there was a brief 35-minute lull where the storm seemed to disappear. This brought the residents of Miami out of hiding because they thought the storm had passed. Then, as the city heaved a collective sigh of relief, the storm descended once more. Ultimately, 372 people died as a result of the hurricane. In addition, more than $105 million in damage was done — that’d be about $1.4 billion today.
3. The Galveston Hurricane
The deadliest hurricane in the history of the United States made landfall in the seaside Texas town of Galveston in 1900. Though the hurricane only rated as a Category 4, the loss of life was spectacular. As many as 12,000 people lost their lives. The coast of Galveston rose to more than 20 feet and washed away more than 3,000 houses. The hurricane was so powerful that it even made it as far inland as the Great Lakes.
2. Hurricane Katrina
When Katrina first struck Louisiana in 2005, it looked menacing, but surmountable. At Category 3, it was expected to peter out quickly — that didn’t happen. Instead, the storm picked up intensity causing the Gulf Coast to surge as high as 28 feet. The waves made it as far as 12 miles inland before finally rolling back. Most horrifically, the force of the storm surge — the highest on record in the United States — critically damaged the levees protecting New Orleans. Eighty percent of the city was flooded for six full weeks. Thousands were left homeless and 1,577 people in Louisiana lost their lives.
1. Hurricane Harvey
Though it only struck the Gulf Coast a few weeks ago, the initial estimates are already calling Hurricane Harvey the costliest and most destructive storm in the history of the country. Not only has the United States burgeoning oil and gas industry been seriously crippled for the next few months, thousands of people have been forced to abandon their homes. The total cost of Harvey might not have come into focus as yet, but experts are putting the cost at just around $100 billion.