Out of all the weather events recorded in U.S. history, hurricanes have caused the most damage and destruction. Between 1900 and 2017, there were 36 recorded hurricanes that cost over $1 billion each in restoration. According to the Office for Coastal Management, 28 of them took place in 2018 and 2019 alone. In fact, these years saw a combined $136 billion in hurricane damage.
However, it may surprise you to know that despite these staggering statistics, none of the top five costliest hurricanes to hit the United States took place in 2018 or 2019. In fact, the costliest hurricane this country has ever seen caused well beyond $136 billion in damage.
The following statistics are pulled from the National Hurricane Center’s updated 2018 list of the costliest U.S. tropical cyclones.
Cost: $50 billion
Classification: Category 5 hurricane
Areas hit: Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, Caribbean Sea, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina
Irma’s defining feature was its size and speed. The storm was big, slow and lasted for days with winds peaking at 185 miles per hour at their strongest and staying at 145 miles or more for 37 hours. It spent three straight days classified as a Category 5 hurricane, which was the longest that any storm on the globe had maintained that classification since 1932.
On September 10, Irma became the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It prompted 6 million Floridians to evacuate before moving up to Georgia and through Alabama, causing record-breaking flooding as far north as Charleston, South Carolina.
Irma also caused devastating power loss. Estimates say Irma left 20 million people in the U.S. and 15 million in the Caribbean without power, making it the fourth-largest power loss in U.S. history.
Cost: $70 billion
Classification: Category 3 hurricane
Areas hit: The Caribbean, Eastern Canada, New Jersey, New York (Note: Sandy affected 24 total U.S. states.)
Sandy is most notable for its winds and its location. While the majority of hurricanes make landfall in the southern United States, Sandy wreaked havoc across the northeastern portion of the country. It started as a Category 3 storm over the Atlantic and was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone by the time it reached land in New Jersey on October 29. It made its way east to New York City and ended up affecting cities as far as Wisconsin and as far south as North Carolina. The destruction from its winds covered 12 states in a 1,000 mile radius, which is why Sandy was ultimately able to do so much monetary damage. This huge radius meant Sandy was three times the size of a typical hurricane.
The majority of the coastal towns in New Jersey suffered damage and a total of 650,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, causing $18.75 billion in insured property losses. Seventeen percent of New York flooded and over 8 million homes in the Northeast were without power after the hurricane dissipated.
Cost: $90 billion
Classification: Category 5 hurricane
Areas hit: Puerto Rico Lesser Antilles, Greater Antilles, Caribbean Sea, Eastern United States coast, especially North Carolina and New Jersey
Hurricane Maria is the costliest hurricane on record to strike Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands
Despite the immense damage it caused, Maria is often left out of similar lists detailing the costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. as it caused the most monetary damage in Puerto Rico, which is not technically an official state, but instead a territory. However, the 18 hours Maria spent in Puerto Rico cannot be overlooked as it descended upon the island as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20. It was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico since 1928.
Maria’s property damage was immense as 75,000 homes were destroyed and 300,000 were damaged. Flooding caused many landslides with devastating effects on the country’s public infrastructure as well. Over 90% of the island’s residents did not have power after the storm, and 20% of these did not yet have power restored three months later in January 2018. No other hurricane or weather event has ever had such an effect on a region’s power. Worse yet, Maria was easily the deadliest hurricane of 2017 with Puerto Rico reporting over 2,900 deaths linked to the storm.
Cost: $125 billion
Classification: Category 4 hurricane
Areas hit: Texas, Louisiana, South America, Central America, The Caribbean, Yucatan Peninsula
Hurricane Harvey was unique for several reasons, most notably its unprecedented rainfall and its status as the first big hurricane to hit the Texas coast in 47 years. It made landfall August 25 and proceeded to move slowly across Texas, leaving over 60 inches of rain in its wake in some areas, causing extreme flooding. It’s also worth noting that Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma occurred within 14 days of each other, the closest in recorded U.S. history that two Category 4 hurricanes had made landfall.
Most of the cost of Hurricane Harvey came from flood damage. Over 500,000 vehicles and 300,000 homes and businesses flooded from the intense rainfall. Flooding was also a large contributor to the 250,000 Texans without power after Harvey tore through the state.
Cost: $160 billion
Classification: Category 5 hurricane
Areas hit: Louisiana, Mississippi, The Bahamas, United States Gulf Coast, South Florida, Northeast Eastern Canada
Though Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Katrina both cost $125 billion, Katrina comes out on top when you adjust for inflation. Though it had weakened to a Category 3 storm when it made landfall on the Gulf Coast in August, it still caused the most damage of any hurricane ever to hit the U.S., a record it holds over 15 years later.
The majority of the damage was due to failed federal levees designed to protect New Orleans, Louisiana from floods. The levees were stressed by the initial storm surge and broke, resulting in flooding in 80 percent of New Orleans with water up to 20 feet high in some areas. The flooding was widespread, reaching as far north as Ohio and Indiana. Many citizens escaped to safety on the roofs of their houses, requiring helicopter and boat rescues, but Katrina ultimately caused over 1,800 deaths. It was devastating to the New Orleans area and recovery efforts are still progressing over 15 years later.
How expensive was Hurricane Laura?
So far, one of the largest hurricanes to affect the United States this year was Hurricane Laura, which made landfall in the Southeastern part of the country on August 20, 2020. After watching the news and hearing from friends and family in Laura’s path you may be curious where this storm falls on our list of the costliest hurricanes in the U.S.
Laura was a Category 4 hurricane at its strongest and had the strongest winds of any hurricane to hit Louisiana since 1856. These high winds caused structural damage to many homes and businesses, especially those near the Louisiana coastline. Initial cost predictions hover at around $9 billion in property losses, making it only number 17 on the current list of costliest hurricanes in the U.S. It falls behind Hurricane Georges, which caused $13.1 billion in damages in The Caribbean and the U.S. Gulf Coast in 1998.
Cleanup is ongoing and costs may still rise. The hardest-hit areas in Southern Louisiana were in the center of the storm. As of writing, in September 2020, many people evacuated from these areas have not been able to return home or have no home to return to and the majority of those with homes still standing in the area do not yet have power. Oil wells in Laura’s path were compromised, leading to water pollution and standing water has bred huge swarms of mosquitoes that have begun to kill off livestock in the area.
Most notably, because recovery efforts are taking place in 2020, the year of the coronavirus pandemic, cleanup has been slowed by necessary safety precautions to curb the spread of the virus. Even the sheriff in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana one of the worst-hit areas, tested positive for the virus. Because of these uncertainties, cost and damage estimates around Laura are still early and subject to change.
Where does the 2020 hurricane season fall so far?
Hurricane season in 2020 has been extremely active and broken many records. Hurricane Laura has so far been the costliest hurricane of the year with Hurricane Isaias behind it, costing around $4 billion. While this year has not seen the same number of powerful hurricanes as 2017, it has seen a large increase in smaller named storms.
The week of September 7 alone saw five named storms form over the Atlantic, which has not happened since 1971. As of writing, meteorologists have to the end of the 21-name list used for hurricane seasons and have started using the Greek Alphabet to name storms, a phenomenon which has not happened since 2005. We can expect to work our way further through the Greek Alphabet this year as hurricane season does not officially end until November 30.
Every year ServiceMaster Recovery Management (SRM) tracks these storms and dispatches recovery services on the ground before, during and after to help businesses and organizations get back up and running as quickly as possible. SRM can provide: temporary power, establish temporary housing, board-up, salvage services including electronic equipment restoration, remove water, dehumidification, evaporation, monitoring, construction and more.
The SRM team has managed projects as large as $56 million in scope and in some of the most sensitive commercial environments. Our highly experienced and versatile large loss experts know that each client’s needs are unique and require a tailored recovery solution. With SRM, there is no job too big and no detail too small. SRM is backed by a $3 billion company with more than 60 years of restoration experience and a commitment to doing the right thing.
To learn more about our efforts and ensure your business is prepared for the rest of the 2020 hurricane season, we invite you to visit our Hurricane Preparedness Center.