Science

Which hurricane caused the most damage?


Powerful winds, drenching rain and towering storm surges make hurricanes not only some of the planet’s most violent storms, but also the “costliest natural disasters in the United States,” researchers reported in 2019 in the journal PNAS (opens in new tab). Ranking the most damaging hurricanes, however, depends on the measure used: usually, financial cost or lives lost. 

By economic accounting, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina usually tops the list (though models adjusting for economic growth place a 1926 Miami storm first). Meanwhile, the deadliest hurricane struck the Caribbean in 1780, causing more than 22,000 deaths, Eric Jay Dolin, author of “A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes (opens in new tab)” (2020, Liveright), told Live Science. (By definition, a “hurricane” is a tropical cyclone in the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific oceans, while other parts of the world call these storms typhoons or cyclones — some of which have been deadlier.)

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