• U.S.
  • weather

The Most Destructive U.S. Hurricanes of All Time

2 minute read

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.

#15 Hurricane Jeanne - Squalls from Hurricane Jeanne throw water and aquatic grass from Lake Tohopekaliga in Kissimmee, Fla., Sept. 26, 2004. Another Florida story, Jeanne was a Category 3, and resulted in more than $8 billion in damages.Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda—The Orlando Sentinel/AP
Flamingos in the Bathroom at Miami-Metro Zoo
#14 Hurricane Floyd - Flamingos take refuge in a bathroom at Miami-Metro Zoo, Sept. 14, 1999 as tropical-storm force winds from Hurricane Floyd approached the Miami area. Hurricane Floyd, which was expected to miss Miami, was a massive storm packing 155 mph winds. Floyd was a Category 2 storm, but led to $9.2 billion in damagesTim Chapman—Newsmakers/Getty Images
Carl Wright
#13 Hurricane Camille - Carl Wright, 11, drinks from a broken pipe amid the ruins of his father's service station in Gulfport, Miss., in the aftermath of Hurricane Camille, Aug. 19, 1969. Fresh potable water was scarce following the storm, which battered the Gulf coast. Although it has been almost 40 years, since the Category 5 storm hit the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Camille is still one of the benchmarks by which all hurricanes are measured. Camille caused $9.2 billion in damages in 2010 dollars.Jack Thornell—AP
Hurricane Frances Hits Florida's East Coast
#12 Hurricane Frances - A man walks down Indian River Road, Sept. 5, 2004 in Jensen Beach, Fla. The road was destroyed after Hurricane Frances pounded the eastern coast of Florida overnight leaving many residents without electricity. Frances broke the $10 billion damage barrier. Chris Hondros—Getty Images
Hurricanes 1964-1966
#11 Hurricane Betsy - Thrill seekers run to escape a giant wave, driven by Hurricane Betsy, as it crashes over a fishing pier wall at Miami Beach on Sept. 7, 1965. Betsy caused $11.2 billion in damages in 2010 dollars—and a similar storm that hit Miami today would cost far, far more.Horace Cort—AP
#10 Tropical Storm Agnes - Cindy King, left, her sister Tracy, center, and cousin Cindy Fenstermacher are completely covered with mud as they take a break from cleaning and sit on their sofa outside their flood-damaged home in Harrisburg, Pa., July 27, 1972. Flood waters, caused by tropical storm Agnes, receded in the city and home owners returned to clean up. Agnes caused far more damage inland than most storms, with $11.7 billion in 2010 dollars. Paul Vathis—AP
#9 Hurricane Rita - Rose Machado, left, walks in waist high floodwater as her neighbors' trailer burns in Lafitte, La., after Hurricane Rita passed through the area, Sept. 24, 2005. Coming so soon after Hurricane Katrina, Rita is often forgotten, but it caused $11.8 billion in damages.Kevork Djansezian—AP
Hurricane Hugo
#8 Hurricane Hugo - Kitty Hicks salvages a few items from her home in Hemby Bridge, N.C., Sept. 29, 1989. The house was destroyed by a tree during Hurricane Hugo, which had winds up to 135 mph. The massively powerful Hug caused $12.7 billion in damages, and killed more than 100 people.Davie Hinshaw—Charlotte Observer/AP
Boats lie scattered like broken toys in a boat yard at Punta
#7 Hurricane Charley - Boats lie scattered like broken toys in a boat yard at Punta Gorda, Fla. August 15, 2004. Hurricane Charley battered the town with 145 mph winds and caused nearly $16 billion in damages, and killed 15 people directly.John Roca—NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images
#6 Hurricane Ivan - A car sits at the edge of the I-10 bridge between Pensacola and Santa Rosa, Fla., Sept. 16, 2004, after the bridge was damaged by Hurricane Ivan. The more powerful storm in the great hurricane year of 2004, Ivan killed over 100 people and caused nearly $20 billion in damages.Andrew Kendrick—U.S. Coast Guard/AP
#5 Hurricane Wilma - People walk past downed trees, Oct. 25, 2005, after Hurricane Wilma came through the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. An unusually late storm that came after Hurricane Katrina, Wilma led to more than $20 billion in damages and killed over 50 people. It was the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic.Wilfredo Lee—AP
Hurricane Ike
#4 Hurricane Ike - A beachfront home stands among the debris in Gilchrist, Texas on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Sept. 14, 2008 after Hurricane Ike hit the area. Ike raked parts of Louisiana and Texas that were still recovering from Katrina, and caused $27.7 billion in damages.AP
Carol Mostacero
#3 Hurricane Andrew - Stunned mobile home owner Carol Mostacero stands in front of the overturned wreckage of her residence on August 26, 1992, following the wrath of Hurricane Andrew. Andrew blew through Florida, causing an astounding $45 billion in damages, and killed over 50 people. At the time, it was the most expensive storm in U.S. history. Thomas S. England—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Breezy Point after the fires that destroyed many homes during Hurricane Sandy
#2 Hurricane Sandy - The Breezy Point neighborhood at the tip of the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens, N.Y., where more than 100 homes were consumed by fires during Superstorm Sandy.Stephen Wilkes for TIME
Then And Now: New Orleans Five Years After The Katrina Disaster
#1 Hurricane Katrina - Stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina rest inside the Superdome, Sept. 2, 2005 in New Orleans. Katrina remains the storm on which all others are judged, causing more than $100 billion in damages. Almost 2,000 people died because of the storm, making it the deadliest in decades, and millions were affected. To this day, New Orleans has yet to fully recover.Mario Tama—Getty Images

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com