Worst Hurricanes in American History (Part III) | Almanac.com

Worst Hurricanes in American History (Part III)


Satellite image of Hurricane Katrina.

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Now that we are well into hurricane season, we’ll continue to look back at some of the most notable hurricanes that have hit the United States. Previously, we’ve looked at storms from the early 1900s through the early 1990s. Let’s now take a look at five more recent hurricanes.

First, see the worst hurricanes from the first half of the 20th century and the second half of the 20th century.

Hurricane Floyd

Hurricane Floyd caused the largest peacetime evacuation in U.S. history, with 3 million people evacuated mostly from Florida and South Carolina before Floyd made landfall as a category 2 hurricane over North Carolina on September 16, 1999. Floyd continued north-northeastward into New England, where the storm became extratropical.

While wind gusts of 120 miles per hour and storm surges of 9 to 10 feet were reported at the North Carolina coast, Floyd was most noteworthy for its rainfall. The combination of Floyd and a frontal system over the eastern United States produced widespread rainfalls in excess of 10 inches from North Carolina northeastward, bringing widespread flooding that led to the majority of the $5 billion in damage and 56 deaths caused by Floyd.

Hurricane Floyd
Severe flooding brought on by Hurricane Floyd.

Hurricane Charley

Hurricane Charley was a category 4 when it hit Florida’s west coast, devastating the Port Charlotte area on Friday, August 13, 2004. Charley moved across Florida, bringing winds as high as 145 mph, killing 35 people, and causing $14 billion in damage. I was on vacation with my two oldest daughters in Orlando when Charley hit, knocking down one of the walls of my motel and causing moderate damage in the area. As the storm approached, I placed my daughters safely in an interior restroom and then went on the terrace outside to call the hurricane desk at my work to let them listen in on the howling wind. The photo that I took shows a tree that fell against the terrace of my hotel.

Hurricane Charley
Damage from Hurricane Charley.

Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was the most costly natural disaster in U.S. history, as it led to the collapse of dikes in New Orleans and left much of the city underwater for days. Katrina first made landfall in South Florida as a minimal hurricane with sustained winds of 80 mph and gusts up to 95 mph. After quickly crossing southern Florida, Katrina moved over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where it strengthened into the fourth most powerful hurricane of all time, with waves in the Gulf as high as 48 feet. Making landfall on August 29, 2005, with 140-mph winds in Louisiana, Katrina created a 27-foot storm surge in Gulfport, Mississippi, and brought 90-mph winds as far east as Mobile, Alabama, which experienced its worst flooding in 90 years.

Flooding from Hurricane Katrina
Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans almost completely underwater.

Although New Orleans was spared the worst of the storm itself, Katrina breached dikes on Lake Pontchartrain, leaving 80 percent of the city underwater.

Katrina even ripped off part of the roof of the Louisiana Superdome, which was being used to shelter 10,000 people. Katrina’s death toll is estimated at 1,833, with damages as high as $200 billion.

Hurricane Irene

Hurricane Irene, in 2011, was the first landfalling hurricane in the United States since 2008, put New York City under a hurricane warning for the first time since 1985, was only the third hurricane to ever make landfall in New Jersey, and was the first to make two landfalls there. Irene was the first hurricane to cross New York City since 1893 and caused the closing of the city’s subway system for the first time in its history.

Hurricane Irene had a first landfall in the Outer Banks of North Carolina on August 26, 2011, shutting down 225 roads and 21 bridges and destroying two piers there. Irene would be most noted for the flooding that it brought from New Jersey into New England, affecting 65 million people and killing 21.

Hurricane Irene damage.
Hurricane Irene was the first hurricane to cross New York City since 1893.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy moved offshore through the Atlantic Ocean, then made a dramatic left turn into the Jersey shore near Atlantic City with winds of 80 mph on October 29, 2012, as had been forecasted by computer models as much as a week earlier. A full Moon made high tides 20 percent higher than normal and amplified Sandy’s storm surge. An estimated 60 million people were affected by the storm, with 33 killed in the United States.

At its peak over the Atlantic, Sandy had tropical storm winds extended some 1,000 miles from its center of circulation, and its entire diameter stretched some 2,000 miles. Minimum central pressure dropped to 940 millibars, the lowest pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Flooding from Hurricane Sandy
Hurricane Sandy shut down FDR Drive in New York City. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sandy brought high winds, heavy rains, high waves, storm surges, tornadoes, and even blizzard conditions to portions of the area from New Jersey to New England, even causing waves in Lake Michigan to rise as high as 20.3 feet. The storm brought extensive rain and wind damage to coastal New Jersey, destroying piers and highways. Farther to the north, a record surge of nearly 14 feet occurred in New York Harbor, producing major flooding in northern New Jersey and lower Manhattan. Sandy caused power failures in 17 states and left 8.2 million people without power.

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Want to see more? Check out this year’s hurricane forecast and hurricane names.

About The Author

Michael Steinberg

Mike Steinberg is Senior Vice President for Special Initiatives at AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. Read More from Michael Steinberg