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10 Worst Natural Disasters to Strike the U.S.

Hurricanes top the list, but heat waves and floods also took steep human and financial tolls

spinner image damage from hurricane katrina
Damage from Hurricane Katrina in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
ParkerDeen/Getty Images

After a relatively quiet start to the hurricane season, storm activity is picking up. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is maintaining its prediction for an above-normal season of storm activity. Forecasters expect several atmospheric and oceanic conditions to remain in place for the rest of 2022 that could slightly enhance hurricane activity through Nov. 30, when the Atlantic hurricane season officially ends.

The projection comes on the heels of 20 weather and climate disasters that hit the U.S. in 2021, each causing at least $1 billion in damage, according to NOAA. These events included one drought, two floods, 11 severe storms, four tropical cyclones, one wildfire and one winter storm. Since 1980, there have been 323 weather and climate disasters with damages at or above $1 billion, totaling an inflation-adjusted $2.195 trillion.

Despite the above-average number of disasters in 2021, only one found a place among the costliest ever to strike the United States: Hurricane Ida, one of just three hurricanes in recorded history to make landfall in Louisiana with sustained winds of 150 mph.

Here’s a look at the 10 natural disasters that caused the most monetary damage, based on data from NOAA. All dollar figures have been adjusted for inflation.

1. Hurricane Katrina

spinner image a plea for help written on the roof of a house flooded in the aftermath of hurricane katrina

When: August 2005

Estimated cost: $180 billion

What first made landfall north of Miami as a Category 1 storm strengthened to a Category 3 once it hit the Gulf Coast states. Hurricane Katrina's fury caused a rise in seawater levels, wind damage and the failure of the New Orleans’ levee system, resulting in more than 1,800 deaths and displacing more than 1 million people.

2. Hurricane Harvey

spinner image an aerial view of downtown houston texas flooded by hurricane harvey
Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

When: August 2017

Estimated cost: $143.8 billion

The Category 4 hurricane caused historic flooding across Houston and surrounding areas. More than 30 inches of rain fell on 6.9 million people causing over 100 deaths, displacing more than 30,000 people and destroying more than 200,000 homes and businesses.

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3. Hurricane Maria

spinner image people walking in a flooded street in catano town puerto rico after hurricane maria

When: September 2017

Estimated cost: $103.5 billion

Puerto Rico faced the greatest amount of damage from Hurricane Maria. The island experienced widespread collapse of its transportation, agriculture, communication and energy infrastructure. The exact death toll caused by the storm is unknown. NOAA estimated nearly 3,000 deaths, but Harvard researchers put the number anywhere between 800 and 8,500.

4. Hurricane Sandy

spinner image a destroyed boardwalk beach amusement park wrecked by hurricane sandy
Mario Tama/Getty Images

When: October 2012

Estimated cost: $80 billion

The late October storm brought wind, rain and heavy snow to the Northeast when it merged with a developing nor'easter. High winds and storm surge caused the most damage to New York and New Jersey's water and electrical services, resulting in an estimated 159 deaths. The New York Stock Exchange closed for two consecutive business days for the first time since 1888.

5. Hurricane Ida

spinner image a bent over stop sign and destroyed homes after hurricane ida
Sean Rayford/Getty Images

When: August 2021

Estimated cost: $76.5 billion

Ida is just one of three hurricanes in recorded history to make landfall in Louisiana with sustained winds of 150 mph. The storm heavily damaged the state's energy infrastructure leaving millions without electricity for nearly a week. In Grand Isle, Louisiana, 100% of its homes suffered damage and almost 40% were nearly-to-completely destroyed. 

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6. Hurricane Irma

spinner image homes damaged or destroyed by hurricane irma in big pine key florida
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When: September 2017

Estimated cost: $57.5 billion

One-quarter of the homes in the Florida Keys were destroyed and two-thirds were severely damaged from the severe wind and storm surge of the Category 4 hurricane. This after Irma, then a Category 5, devastated the U.S. Virgin Islands. Nearly 100 people were killed as a result of the storm.

7. Hurricane Andrew

spinner image two women clear rubble from their pet supply store in homestead florida after hurricane andrew
BOB PEARSON/AFP via Getty Images

When: August 1992

Estimated cost: $54.3 billion

Andrew is one of just three known Category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. mainland. (The others were Camille in 1969 and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.) The storm's high winds damaged or destroyed over 125,000 homes and left at least 160,000 people homeless in Dade County, Fla., alone. Andrew later impacted Louisiana as a Category 3.

8. U.S. drought/heat wave

spinner image an empty rain guage sticks up from a farm post in marne iowa
AP Photo/John Gaps III

When: Summer 1988

Estimated cost: $54.3 billion

From June through August 1988 a drought across a large portion of the U.S. severely impacted farmers and other agricultural industries. NOAA put the official estimate of fatalities at 454, but deaths indirectly related to heat stress may have hit 5,000.

9. Midwest flooding

spinner image people in a flooded town on a boat after having found their stranded dog
PETER NEWCOMB/AFP via Getty Images

When: Summer 1993

Estimated cost: $41.7 billion

Heavy rains and thunderstorms from late June to mid-August caused extensive damage to agriculture, infrastructure, homes and businesses. Many rivers set records for flood heights and an estimated 48 people died.

10. Hurricane Ike

spinner image a man inspecting debris on route forty five left by hurricane ike
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

When: September 2008

Estimated cost: $39 billion

No Atlantic hurricane on record has been larger in size than Ike, which generated considerable storm surge along the Texas coast. High winds and flooding extended across 10 other states. Gas shortages resulted from damage to oil platforms, pipelines and refineries. There were more than 100 deaths tied to the hurricane.

Before disaster strikes: How older adults can prepare now

Review, practice and refresh your plan, supplies and important documents every six months:

  • Plan to stay at home for at least two weeks or evacuate.
  • If you need help evacuating, determine who will help you and make a plan with them.
  • If you need electricity to operate medical devices or store medicine, make a back-up plan.
  • In case of fire, identify two ways to escape every room and plan for the help you may need.
  • Review your renters or home insurance to make sure your policy meets your property and disaster coverage needs.
  • Make an emergency contact list and plan how you'll reach them, including when communications may be disrupted.
  • Use an emergency checklist to prepare what you'll need in your home, car or when you evacuate.
  • Keep on hand at least 30 days of medication and extra assistive items such as a cane or eyeglasses.
  • Get batteries to power devices.
  • Use a checklist to locate, collect and copy important documents such as identification cards, financial, legal and medical papers you'll need to recover.
  • Store a list of up-to-date medical information that includes any conditions, allergies, medications, prescription records, doctors and insurance cards.

Source: American Red Cross