Every year communities along the coastal United States from Texas to Maine prepare for the possibility of experiencing billions of dollars of damage to their communities. This ensuing threat is from potential hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. This century thus far has seen eight out of the top ten costliest hurricanes of all time and it is still only in its first decade.
In 2005, hurricane Katrina, the costliest storm of all-time, caused approximately $81 billion in property damages to Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. That year also brought two of the other top ten, Rita and Wilma. The former struck just two weeks after hurricane Katrina and caused additional damage in Louisiana, and ripped up parts of Texas as well, to the sum of $11 billion.
Wilma hammered Florida, in December of that year (one month after the official end of the Atlantic season) causing another $20 billion in damage to a state that had not only seen its fair share already that year, it was still trying to rebound from previous damage. Before 2005, the most costly storm had been hurricane Andrew in 1992 with over $26 billion in damage.
Seven out of nine of the costliest storms of this century happened between 2004 and 2005, though according to the National Hurricane Center there has not been any significant increase in the frequency of hurricanes making landfall. In fact, the agency’s compiled data suggests that there was a sharp decrease in the frequency and intensity of landfall activity between the years of 1961 and 2000.
Interestingly enough, that data also shows that in four out of twenty of the costliest hurricanes, a large portion of the damage was caused by inland floods from torrential rain, not high winds and storm surge.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has compiled a report on the deadliest and costliest hurricanes from the years 1851 to 2006. According to this report the largest losses occur during hurricanes that have been designated category 3 or higher. This includes loss of life as well as damages to property.
On the Saffir/Simpson scale, used to measure the intensity of a hurricane, a category 1 cyclone is considered minimal, a category 2 moderate, category 3 extensive, category 4 extreme and a category 5 catastrophic. The top ten costliest storms of all time are Katrina (2005), Andrew (1992), Wilma (2005), Charley (2004), Ivan (2004), Rita (2005), Frances (2004), Hugo (1989), Jeanne (2004) and Allison (2001) in that order.
The NOAA’s National Weather Service has been collecting data and providing weather forecasts, warnings and climate reports since the late eighteen hundreds. To learn more about hurricanes and the history of the NWS visit: http://www.weather.gov/pa/history/index.php