AARP Eye Center
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
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
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
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
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
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.
6. Hurricane Irma
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.