The Most Destructive Hurricanes of All Time
The last few years have seen some of the most intense storm seasons in recorded history. In fact, research indicates hurricanes have developed three times as fast in the last 30 years.
But which storms have been the strongest in recorded history? To find out the most destructive hurricanes of all time — we’ve also included typhoons and tropical cyclones on our list. The storms are all destructive, with the main difference being the locations where they developed.
Typhoon Haiphong – 1881
Typhoons are the same as hurricanes; the only difference is they take place in the Pacific Ocean. In 1881, Typhoon Haiphong traveled up through the Gulf of Tonkin and unleashed chaos on Vietnam. Haiphong, the coastal city of Vietnam, saw the most damage.
Almost 300,000 people died in Haiphong as a result of the killer storm. The casualties continued long after the storm, likely due to disease and starvation. The storm is the deadliest typhoon ever recorded throughout history.
The Galveston Hurricane – 1900
Known locally as the Great Storm of 1900, the Galveston hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest natural disaster in United States history. Even though it took place more than 100 years ago, the Galveston hurricane was a major storm. The Category 4 storm left behind $20 million in damages — $78 billion when adjusted for inflation.
The number of deaths in most official reports is 8,000, but the number likely ranges anywhere from 6,000 to 12,000. Most deaths took place in Galveston, Texas, where the storm’s surge flooded coastlines. About 7,000 buildings were completely destroyed, leaving 10,000 residents homeless.
The Second Galveston Hurricane – 1915
A mere 15 years later, Galveston was once again struck by a Category 4 hurricane. Thankfully, the coastal Texas area was far more prepared. A giant seawall bordering the resort city was built in response to the massive hurricane in 1900.
The storm still unleashed $30 million in damages — roughly $109.8 billion today. The majority of the fatalities and damage occurred in areas not protected by the wall. Because the area continues to face storms, the Galveston Seawall now extends more than 10 miles.
The Great Miami Hurricane – 1926
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) claims this storm is the most damaging U.S. hurricane of all time. The Miami area faced the brunt of the storm’s wrath, flooding city streets and destroying the shoreline.
As of 2018, the Great Miami Hurricane is the most expensive storm in U.S. history. When adjusted for inflation, the cost of the damage clocks in at $235.9 billion. If the same storm occurred in 2005, the damages would have doubled the cost of Hurricane Katrina.
The Lake Okeechobee Hurricane – 1928
Before hitting Lake Okeechobee in Florida, this massive storm tore through the Caribbean. It first hit Guadeloupe, destroying almost every building on the island. After tearing through Puerto Rico, the storm moved on to Florida.
The greatest impact occurred around Lake Okeechobee. The storm pushed the lake’s water onto its southern shore and destroyed a hastily-built dike. Thousands of people, most of them non-white migrant farmworkers, drowned from the flooding. A memorial was later erected to honor the loss of life in the area.
The Florida Keys Labor Day Hurricane – 1935
This Category 5 storm is often considered the strongest U.S. storm in the 20th century due to its record-setting 200-mph winds. It’s referred to as the “Labor Day Hurricane” simply because storms weren’t named until 1953. .
The storm damaged the Florida Keys and killed roughly 400 people. Many of the lives lost were World War I veterans who were working construction jobs in the area. Damage to the Florida Keys’ area totaled roughly $6 million — $112 million today.
The Great New England Hurricane – 1938
This northeast storm in 1938 may be the most surprising storm strike in recorded history. The storm was originally on course to strike Florida, but winds carried it north. Forecasters believed it would wash out to sea, but they were very wrong.
The storm caused 12-foot to 25-foot surges throughout southern New England. Winds as fast as 120 mph downed power lines and damaged houses. There were between 600 to 800 deaths as a result of the storm, largely because no one saw it coming.
Cuba-Florida Hurricane – 1944
The Cuba-Florida Hurricane took place while WWII was in full swing. The Category 3 storm first struck Cuba, killing around 300 people. The Havana harbor saw the most damage, with ships littered across the coastline. The hurricane then made its way toward Florida.
Tides along the Everglades surged upwards of 28 feet when the storm reached the Florida coastline. While there was $100 million worth of damage, local officials were able to save most residents. The Army, Coast Guard and Navy helped move locals into shelters.
Hurricane Donna – 1960
The first officially named storm to make this list, Hurricane Donna was a Category 4 storm and the fifth largest storm in United States history. It also holds the record for maintaining hurricane status for 17 days. The storm’s slow-moving progress resulted in heavy rainfall that massively flooded Florida’s lakes and streams.
The high water levels in the Florida Keys closed roads and drowned local farms. The final count totaled $387 million in damages — $29.6 billion today. Hurricane Donna also caused 50 deaths in the United States, 114 in the Bahamas and 107 in Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Camille – 1969
Camille is notable for several reasons. First, it wreaked havoc in the Cayman Islands and Cuba before hitting Mississippi on the U.S. coast. Second, the storm resulted in 256 deaths and more than $1.4 billion in damages. Finally, it sparked the creation of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale ranks storms from Category 1 to 5 based on wind speed. A Category 1 storm ranges from 74 mph to 95 mph. A Category 5 requires wind speeds of 156 mph or above.
Cyclone Bhola – 1970
The Bhola cyclone struck East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and the West Bengal area of India. The Category 4 tropical cyclone is the deadliest tropical cyclone ever recorded. At least 500,000 people died during the storm or afterward as a result of the storm.
The low lying islands in the Ganges Delta region suffered the most. The storm wiped out crops and destroyed entire villages on many of the offshore islands. In one area, 45% of the total population of the town drowned in the storm.
Typhoon Nina – 1975
In 1975, Typhoon Nina was the fourth-deadliest tropical cyclone on record. More than 229,000 people died in Taiwan and mainland China. The biggest damage occurred in China after the collapse of the Banqiao Dam. In total, 62 dams collapsed after Typhoon Nina.
When the storm first made landfall in Taiwan, winds were upwards of 138 mph. Approximately 3,000 homes were either damaged or destroyed. In mainland China, several temporary lakes flooded towns after all the dams collapsed. It took roughly $1.2 billion to repair the damage.
Typhoon Tip – 1979
Typhoon Tip was the largest and most intense Pacific typhoon ever recorded. At its largest, Tip was almost half the size of the contiguous United States. The record-setter affected many areas, including the Philippines, Japan, Russia, China and Alaska.
Typhoon Tip caused widespread flooding and 99 total deaths in Japan. More than 600 mudslides demolished more than 22,000 homes, with 42 reported fatalities. Even though the storm was a record-breaker, officials continued to name storms Tip in ’83, ’86 and ’89.
Hurricane Gilbert – 1988
The Category 5 storm devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in 1988. It was so large it completely covered the island of Jamaica, causing $2.98 billion in property damage — $6.46 billion when adjusted for inflation.
Heavy rains triggered flash floods throughout Central America and Mexico, and about 60,000 homes were destroyed on the Yucatán Peninsula alone. In Cancún, Gilbert washed away 60 percent of the city’s beaches. Gilbert remains the most intense tropical cyclone to ever rampage across Mexico.
Hurricane Mitch – 1988
Hurricane Mitch brought death and destruction to the island nation of Honduras. The Category 5 hurricane is the second-deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history. More than 11,000 people died in Central America, with more than 7,000 deaths in Honduras alone.
The reason Honduras suffered the most from the storm was because of the storm’s speed — or lack of it. Mitch paused once it reached Honduras, pouring up to four inches of rain an hour on the nation for two days. Mudslides, flooding and dam breaks devastated the Central American country.
Hurricane Andrew – 1992
Hurricane Andrew was a fast-moving storm with powerful winds. Unlike some other storms, the Category 5 hurricane caused catastrophic destruction from wind power. Debris flew from the storm in south Florida as far as a mile from its starting point.
More than 1 million people evacuated the area almost overnight before the storm arrived. After the storm, south Florida implemented the strongest building codes in the country. All homes now require storm shutters or impact-resistant glass. Andrew also inspired changes to the tools used to study, prepare for and respond to hurricanes.
Odisha Cyclone – 1999
The Odisha Cyclone was the most intense tropical cyclone in the North Indian Ocean. Myanmar, Bangladesh and India were all impacted by the super cyclone’s 160 mph winds. The storm hovered over the coastal areas of Odisha for three days, unleashing torrential rainfall.
The 20-foot storm surge flooded nearby towns and villages, damaging upwards of 1.6 million homes. Counting the number of lives lost was difficult, as water had swept away so many people, but estimates range up to 30,000. The total cost of the damage in 1999 was $4.44 billion — $6.77 billion today.
Hurricane Katrina – 2005
On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. It was only a Category 3 rated storm at the time, but it landed in a vulnerable area. Levee breaches caused massive floods, displacing hundreds of thousands of people in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana.
Katrina left parts of the South, particularly New Orleans, completely in ruins. The government didn’t have a plan in place to help the large number of people impacted by Katrina, and many people, particularly those in communities living in poverty, were left without help for weeks. The storm ultimately displaced more than 1 million people along the Gulf Coast.
Hurricane Wilma – 2005
Hurricane Wilma was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic. The storm broke several records related to strength and seasonal activity. It was only the third Category 5 storm to ever develop in the month of October.
The storm caused mudslides in Cuba and structural damage in Florida and parts of Mexico (prior to turning toward Cuba and Florida). In Florida, more than 3 million customers were without power once Wilma hit land. South Florida’s sugar cane and citrus crops were severely damaged from Wilma’s wrath.
Hurricane Ike – 2008
Hurricane Ike was the most intense storm of 2008. Its 15-foot waves battered coastlines from Florida all the way to Texas. Before reaching America, Ike barreled through Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas and Cuba. It was during its time in the Gulf of Mexico when it swelled in strength.
Wind damage and flooding followed the path of Ike all the way to the southern Great Lakes region. Power outages, cattle loss and seafood farms were common throughout the affected area. More than $1 trillion of insured commercial and residential property fell victim to Ike.
Typhoon Megi – 2010
Typhoon Megi, or Super Typhoon Juan as it’s called in the Philippines, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record. Megi killed 31 people and caused $255.1 million in damages, making it one of the most costly typhoons in the Philippines – but it wasn’t done yet.
After striking the Philippines, the storm moved to the South China Sea, landing in Taiwan. It caused an additional $42 million in damages and killed 38 additional people. Overall, Megi was the deadliest storm to hit Taiwan in the entire decade. It later caused $411 million in damages in Fujian, China.
Hurricane Irene – 2011
A well-defined Atlantic tropical wave brewed the disastrous Hurricane Irene in August 2011. As it continued to gain steam, it made its way through St. Croix, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. By the time it reached Virginia, the storm had developed into a Category 3 hurricane, peaking at 120 mph.
Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States since 2008. President Obama preemptively declared a national emergency to prepare the nation for impact. Irene caused massive destruction throughout the Caribbean and North America, totaling upwards of $14 billion in damages. It also cost the lives of 49 people.
Hurricane Sandy – 2012
Hurricane Sandy was the most destructive hurricane of 2012. In late October, the storm first moved across Jamaica before growing stronger in the Caribbean Sea. It later tore through Cuba and the Bahamas, continuing to wreak havoc and grow in strength.
When it reached America, Sandy tore through 24 states before reaching Ontario and Quebec in Canada. It notably destroyed New Jersey’s iconic shoreline in Seaside Heights. The storm killed 233 people across eight different countries and damaged $68.7 billion worth of property. It remains the fifth costliest hurricane in United States’ history.
Typhoon Haiyan – 2013
Typhoon Haiyan is one of the deadliest typhoons to strike the Philippines, killing at least 6,300 people. In early November 2013, the storm reached a Category 5 level, with winds as strong as 195 mph. The storm also harmed parts of Micronesia, Vietnam, Taiwan and South China.
The damages totaled more than $4.5 billion across Southeast Asia. Tacloban City, one of the Philippines’ wealthiest areas, experienced mass looting and violence as a result of the devastation. Relief trucks, shopping malls and grocery stores were all emptied as residents were desperate to find food, water and shelter for their families.
Typhoon Rammasun – 2014
Typhoon Rammasun was the first Category 5 super typhoon in the South China Sea since 1954. The storm caused devastation across the Philippines, South China and Vietnam in July 2014, a mere eight months after Typhoon Haiyan had wreaked havoc on the Philippines.
Before the storm hit the island nation, more than 350,000 citizens received evacuation notices. In the aftermath, more than 7,000 homes were destroyed, particularly in impoverished areas. More than $8 billion in damages was reported throughout the affected regions.
Hurricane Patricia – 2015
Hurricane Patricia broke the record for the most intense storm to hit land in the Western Hemisphere. The storm’s maximum wind speed topped out at an astonishing 215 mph. More than 10,000 homes were severely damaged near the Mexican city of Manzanillo.
The Category 5 storm was also the second most intense tropical cyclone, behind Typhoon Tip. Twenty-one of Mexico’s thirty-one states felt the effects of Patricia. Thankfully, the storm largely avoided populated areas, and Mexican citizens took the evacuation seriously. Only 13 deaths occurred due to the colossal storm.
Hurricane Harvey – 2017
Hurricane Harvey is tied with Hurricane Katrina for the title of most expensive storm in American history, causing $125 billion in damages. The cost largely stems from flooding throughout Houston and Southeast Texas. Many regions in the area suffered through 40 inches of rain over the course of just four days.
An estimated 300,000 structures were destroyed in Texas alone, and more than 330,000 people were left without electricity. Approximately 13,000 people had to be rescued from the flooding. Nearly 50,000 homes were affected by Harvey throughout the state, including 1,000 that were completely destroyed.
Hurricane Irma – 2017
Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 storm to develop in the 2017 season. The storm had winds as strong as 180 mph before making landfall in Cuba and later touching down in Florida. It was the most intense hurricane to strike the United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
It was also the costliest hurricane to ever strike Cuba, costing the island country $13.2 billion in damages and 10 lives. In the United States, the hurricane ranks as the fifth costliest storm, with $77 billion in damages and 92 deaths.
Hurricane Maria – 2017
In September 2017, the Category 5 Hurricane Maria followed Irma and caused widespread devastation in Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It is the worst environmental disaster to strike any of those regions and was the 10th most intense Atlantic hurricane on record.
Winds exceeding 175 mph tore apart Puerto Rico, causing upwards of $91 billion in damages to the island. In Dominica, the entire island suffered a communication blackout, making it impossible to check on survivors. More than 3,000 lives were lost as a result of the deadly storm.
Hurricane Dorian – 2019
Hurricane Dorian was a long-lived Category 5 storm that destroyed the northwestern part of the Bahamas. As Dorian ripped through the island nation at full power, it slowed its speed dramatically, remaining almost stationary from September 1 to September 3.
Catastrophic damage occurred to Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands, leaving 70,000 residents homeless. The storm later made its climb up the coast of North America, impacting parts of the U.S. before ending in Canada. The official death toll stands in the low 40s after the storm, but many thousands remain missing.