TIME weather

The Most Destructive U.S. Hurricanes of All Time

As the hurricane season begins, TIME looks back at the most damaging storms to barrel down on the US.

Hurricanes have been menacing the U.S. as long as anyone can remember, but the monetary damages the storms have caused has increased in recent years, as this TIME photo collection shows. The devastation from Hurricane Sandy — later dubbed a “Superstorm” — rang in at $65 billion, leaving 72 people dead and more than 6 million homeless.

Does that mean hurricanes are getting more powerful or more common? Not necessarily. While many atmospheric scientists believe that climate change may strengthen tropical cyclones—higher temperatures at the ocean tend to feed hurricanes—the power of the storm isn’t the only factor in the extent of the damage. Far more important, at least for now, is the increase in the number of people and the value of the property in coastal areas that are perennially vulnerable to major hurricanes. Hurricane Katrina was so expensive not just because it was powerful, but because it landed directly on top of a major American city—and one that was clearly unprepared for a storm of that magnitude.

The more people and property we put in harm’s way, the greater thee damage any storm will cause. If climate change really does give hurricanes an extra kick—and if we do nothing to slow global warming or prepare for the effects—damage will be incalculably greater.

TIME weather

Severe Storms, Tornados Forecast Across Large Swath of U.S.

A storm chaser photographer looks at thunderstorms supercells pass through areas in Vinson, Oklahoma
Gene Blevins—Reuters A storm chaser photographer looks at thunderstorms supercells passing through areas in Vinson, Oklahoma late April 23, 2014. The thunder storms on were a precursor of what's forecast for this coming weekend.

Meteorologists at the National Weather Service issued warnings about severe weather this weekend across Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. Local residents were urged to prepare for hail, thunderstorms and tornadoes

Updated 4:08pm ET

Multiple tornados and severe thunderstorms are forecast this weekend from Nebraska to Texas, in what could be the worst severe weather event of the season so far.

The storms are expected to begin late Saturday and could last into the night before spreading to other areas, according to AccuWeather.com.

Multiple tornados had already touched down in eastern North Carolina by Saturday afternoon, sending 16 people to the emergency room so far and destroying or damaging 200 homes, CBS News reports.

“South-central Kansas to west-central Oklahoma would be in an elevated risk area for severe weather Saturday evening,” meteorologist Scott Breit said. The storms could then move in the direction of Omaha, Neb., Wichita, Kan., Oklahoma City, and Dallas later at night.

Sunday could see more tornados and strong hail lasting into the evening as well, according to National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. It warned that Saturday’s storms would be severe, but “isolated and scattered.”

The relatively tame severe weather season so far makes the upcoming inclement weather a particular source of worry. “A reason for extra concern this weekend is that tornadoes have been nearly non-existent so far and people tend to forget what they have learned from year to year,” said Accuweather senior vice president Mike Smith.


TIME the backstory

Moments of Hope in Oklahoma: One Photographer’s Story

In the midst of the chaos and devastation that descended on Moore, Okla., one of the first photographers to the scene recounts the heroic moments of a community banding together.

On Tuesday, the world awoke to the photographs of Sue Ogrocki. Based in Oklahoma City as a staff photographer for the Associated Press, Ogrocki’s images of rescue workers carrying injured children from the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School appeared on the cover of many of the world’s leading newspapers, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Early this morning, TIME spoke with Ogrocki about what she witnessed on the ground in Moore – a scene of devastation and raw humanity.

“I could see on TV that the storms were headed towards Moore, and I knew I needed to get in the car and get down there, because if you don’t [hurry], you can’t get in. Cell phones go down, traffic lights go down, and it’s gridlock and you can’t communicate.”

Driving underneath pitch-black clouds and rain turning to baseball-sized hail, Ogrocki arrived in Moore, population 55,000, just after the F4 tornado leveled it.

Standing in a landscape that, minutes earlier, had resembled a suburban neighborhood, Ogrocki spotted a large mass of toppled cinder block. Too large to be a residential home, a bystander explained that she was looking at the remains of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Watching a crowd buzzing around a makeshift triage area set up in the parking lot, Ogrocki began to photograph.

“I could see people searching a section of the school that was close to me. And I could hear people saying that there are people trapped under the wall.”

Continuing around the backside of the school, Ogrocki found an incredible scene of humanity — police, firemen, parents, neighbors and rescuers were helping to dig children out of the rubble. Forming a human chain, a firefighter or police officer would pull a child out of the rubble and pass them to safety along the chain of bystanders.

“I couldn’t hear the children,” she explains, “and every now and then, police or fire would ask people to stay quiet so they could listen for the kids still trapped.”

“A lot of the parents were coming to the school to get their kids,” Ogrocki said. “It was bad out there, but for what they were doing, it was surprisingly calm — I was amazed.”

Ogrocki, who has photographed tornadoes in the past, including the one that devastated Moore in 1999, said she had never seen anything like this destruction. “This is probably the worst. I’ve never seen a school hit or people trapped before.”

“It was heartwarming because they kept pulling out kids that were alive. Kids that, although they looked a little stunned, didn’t really look like they were seriously injured. It was nice to see them come out in good shape.”

Each time a child was pulled from the rubble, covered in concrete dust and scared, the group of spectators and parents cheered.

“As I was walking out, there were still parents looking for their kids. I hope they found them.”

Sue Ogrocki is a staff photographer with the Associated Press based in Oklahoma City.

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