Is This the Worst Hurricane Season Ever? Here’s How it Compares

Sep 24, 2017

Hurricane season won't end until Nov. 30, but four major hurricanes — Category 3 or greater — have already churned through the Atlantic. And meteorologists say more are likely on the way, raising a question of how this hurricane season compares to past years.

For an answer, we turned to the National Hurricane Center, which began tracking damage caused by hurricanes in 1900. The figures only reflect fatalities and damage for the mainland U.S., so the following tables don't capture the full extent of the destruction caused by this year's storms.

Which hurricane seasons were deadliest for the U.S.?

Hurricane forecasting has vastly improved in the past century, saving countless lives each year. But Harvey and Irma still left a total of 103 people dead in the U.S., making 2017 the 17th deadliest hurricane season since 1900.

The deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history is also the most fatal hurricane to date. In 1900, inaccurate predictions, combined with poor warning systems, left Galveston, Texas vulnerable to a hurricane that killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people.

Twenty-eight years later, an estimated 2,500 people drowned when a Category 4 hurricane caused Lake Okeechobee in Florida to overflow, deluging the surrounding area with 10-to-15-foot floods.

The 10 deadliest hurricane seasons include only one from within the past 50 years: 2005, when Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levees in New Orleans and inundated the city, killing more than 1,000 people.

Deadliest mainland U.S. hurricane seasons, 1900 to present

RankYearMajor HurricanesDeathsDamage (billions)
11900Galveston Hurricane, TX8,000$104.3
21928Okeechobee Hurricane, FL2,500$35.3
32005Katrina, Dennis, Cindy, Ophelia, Rita, Wilma1,225$211.2
41938Great New England Hurricane, NY, CT, RI, MA600$41.1
51915Galveston Hurricane, TX, New Orleans Hurricane, LA550$74.3
61957Audrey426$4.0
71935Labor Day Hurricane, FL414$9.2
81926Great Miami Hurricane, FL408$169.4
91909Velasco Hurricane, TX, Grand Isle Hurricane, LA406$3.0
101906Fl, SC, MS, FL298$4.1
111919Florida Keys Hurricane, FL287$14.4
121969Gerida256$22.3
131955Connie, Diane, Ione218$24.4
141954Carol, Edna, Hazel193$37.5
151972Agnes122$18.5
161916Major hurricanes in MS, SC, TX, AL107$7.9
172017Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria103$200
181965Betsy75$22.3
192012Sandy, Alberto, Isaac, Debby72$73.2
201960Donna, Ethel65$31.5

Which hurricane seasons caused the most damage?

Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are expected to cost the U.S. between $150 and $200 billion in combined property damage, according to Moody's Analytics. The higher figure would make this season the second costliest to date, just behind 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Dennis and Cindy left behind $211 billion in damage, according to the National Hurricane Center.

But with a month of peak hurricane season still ahead of us, more storms could place 2017 atop the list of costliest seasons.

All values in the chart below, in billions, are adjusted to reflect inflation and growth in personal wealth and population.

Costliest mainland U.S. hurricane seasons, 1900 to present

RankYearMajor HurricanesDeathsDamage (billions)
12005Katrina, Dennis, Cindy, Ophelia, Rita, Wilma1,225$211.2
22017Harvey, Irma, Jose, Maria103$200
31926Great Miami Hurricane, FL408$169.4
41900Galveston Hurricane, TX8,000$104.3
51915Galveston Hurricane, TX, New Orleans Hurricane, LA550$74.3
62012Sandy, Alberto, Isaac, Debby72$73.2
71992Andrew24$60.5
82004Alex, Charley, Gaston, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne60$58.6
91944Major hurricanes in NC, RI, FL64$54.8
101938Great New England Hurricane, NY, CT, RI, MA600$41.1
111954Carol, Edna, Hazel193$37.5
122008Dolly, Gustav, Ike41$35.9
131928Okeechobee Hurricane, FL2,500$35.3
141960Donna, Ethel65$31.5
151955Connie, Diane, Ione218$24.4
161965Betsy75$22.3
171969Gerida256$22.3
181947Major Hurricanes in TX, FL, GA53$20.1
191972Agnes122$18.5
201989Chantal, Hugo, Jerry56$17.6

Methodology

Figures are taken from the National Hurricane Center's report on The Deadliest, Costliest, and Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones from 1851 to 2010. Totals for years 2011 through 2016 are compiled from the National Weather Service's hazard statistics with selected updates from other National Weather Service lists. Economic damage estimates reflect property damage only, not indirect damage like lost productivity or increased fuel prices.

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