In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans so severely that recovery efforts are still underway. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy earned the unprecedented title of "superstorm" for the way that it ravaged the eastern seaboard. Two of the worst hurricanes in U.S. history, Katrina and Sandy have become household names for their association with destruction, but they aren't the only names that will go down in history.
For most of the coastal United States, hurricane season runs from mid-summer through November, and it can be hard to predict when the worst storms will strike. Katrina, for instance, made landfall in late August, while Sandy caught New Jersey and New York right at the end of the storm season. This year, few storms have yet to strike the U.S. mainland, but experts warn that the peak of this year's hurricane season could be just on the horizon.
The third hurricane of this year's season, Hurricane Gaston restrengthened from a tropical storm over the weekend. Gaston, which shares a name with a 2004 hurricane that passed over North Carolina and Virginia, likely won't threaten the U.S., as it is expected to pass east of Bermuda and progress to the central Atlantic. Meanwhile, a tropical disturbance known as Invest 99-L could strengthen into something more destructive as it passes through the Gulf of Mexico and toward Florida. Still, neither Gaston nor the unnamed Invest 99-L could hold a candle to some of the most dangerous storms in history.
The 2012 superstorm known as Sandy was the most recent of the country's devastating storms. More than 70 people in the U.S. were killed, and dozens others lost their lives in the Caribbean. Waves in the New York Harbor topped 30 feet and hurricane-force winds circled 175 feet from Sandy's eye. In other words, the storm was much larger and more destructive than most other storms of its kind.
Hurricane Katrina most notably caused the destruction of the levees in New Orleans, leading to historic flooding throughout the low-lying city. The storm warranted the city's first-ever mandatory evacuation order, though that warning was too late for many residents. But it wasn't just New Orleans that felt the impacts of the storm. Hundreds of thousands of people from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama were displaced because of the storm. Believe it or not, Katrina was just a category three storm when it made landfall, though it ultimately grew into a category five storm.
Generations before Katrina and Sandy, an unnamed hurricane hit Galveston, Texas, in 1900. The storm pre-dated many of the current naming and classifying conventions, but it was reportedly a category four or five storm with winds of more than 150 miles per hour in some places. All in all, the Galveston hurricane killed some 8,000 to 12,000 people. Other devastating unnamed storms of historic significance struck Florida in 1928 and the Gulf coast in 1919.
Over a century later, in September 2008, Hurricane Ike left its own mark on Galveston. More than 100 people were killed in the U.S., and flooding spread from the Florida panhandle to Texas. The damage caused by Ike was valued at a whopping $29.5 billion, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history, behind Sandy and Katrina.
In 1972, Hurricane Agnes demonstrated just how far-reaching powerful storm systems can be. Agnes swept up the eastern United States, bringing damage and flooding to areas that had previously remained unscathed by hurricanes. The storm reached as far inland as West Virginia and Pennsylvania and earned the nickname Hurricane Agony.
Ranking hurricanes can be a subjective business. Is it the death toll that makes storms worse than one another? The costliness of damage? No two storms are exactly the same, but few reach the infamy of Katrina or Sandy. With several months left in this year's hurricane season, the remnants of past storms should serve as an early warning sign for coastal residents to be prepared.