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The Diverse Face of America’s Worst Weather Disasters

A helicopter dropping water on a California wildfire in rugged terrain, backlit by a setting sun filtered through multiple layers of smoke

The Diverse Face of America’s Worst Weather Disasters

In a century of recordkeeping, Hurricane Beryl went down in history as the earliest Atlantic hurricane to reach category 5 during hurricane season. Hurricane Emily held that record with sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. Beryl tops that hurricane with winds reaching 165 on July 2nd. 

Hurricane Beryl first made landfall on Grenada’s Carriacou Island on the 1st of July as a category 4 hurricane. This is historic as hurricane season typically starts in September. Instead, Beryl flattened homes and businesses on that island, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Jamaica, and Venezuela in the first week of July.

Considering the United States’ 10 most expensive storms from 1980 to today, five happened in the past decade. None of them topped Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with an estimated cost of $200 billion and 1,833 deaths. However, many have been close. In my comparisons, I am focusing on the monetary value of the damages and death tolls. The monetary damages of these 20 catastrophic storms come from NOAA.gov.

I’m taking a deep dive into the tornados, hurricanes, Nor’easters, blizzards, and other weather-related events that have destroyed homes and businesses in the U.S. and its territories. These massive storms have flattened homes and buildings. They’ve led to tragic death tolls, and damaged forests, prairies, and more. (Learn more about cities that are more likely to experience natural disasters in The Most Disaster-Prone Cities in the U.S.) 

Hurricane Harvey – August 2017

Source: Eric Overton / Getty Images

Flooded streets in Houston Texas during Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey caused massive flooding in Rockport, Texas.

While Hurricane Katrina tops the list of catastrophic storms in recorded history, it happened before this decade. For the biggest storms between 2014 and 2024, Hurricane Harvey tops the list. This category 4 hurricane made landfall in Rockport, Texas, and ended up causing massive floods with some areas getting more than 50 inches of rain.

  • Estimated Damages: $158.8 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Texas
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 89

Hurricane Ian – September 2022

Hurricane Ian heading towards the coast of Florida in September 2022 - Elements of this image furnished by NASA
Source: lavizzara / Shutterstock.com
Hurricane Ian destroyed barrier islands along Florida’s coast.

When it made landfall, Hurricane Ian was a category 4 hurricane. Barrier islands along Florida’s coast were destroyed as rainfall dumped up to 20 inches across the state.

  • Estimated Damages: $118.5 billion
  • Areas Affected: Florida
  • Number of Dead: 152

Hurricane Maria – September 2017

Hurricane Maria makes landfall in Puerto Rica in September 2017 - Elements of this image furnished by NASA
Source: lavizzara / Shutterstock.com
Hurricane Maria caused massive amounts of damage in Puerto Rico.

This category 4 hurricane sits at number three on the list of biggest storms in the U.S. Hurricane Maria destroyed much of Puerto Rico, and recovery continues to this day. Not only was Puerto Rico damaged by the hurricane, but two earthquakes in 2019 and 2020 added to the problems.

  • Estimated Damages: $114.3 billion
  • Areas Affected: Puerto Rico, St. Croix
  • Number of Dead: 2,981

Hurricane Ida – August and September 2021

Grand Isle Louisiana before Hurricane Ida
Source: M.J. Howard / Shutterstock.com
Hurricane Ida damaged every home in Grand Isle.

Ida caused billions in destruction. The category 4 hurricane made landfall in Louisiana and damaged or destroyed every home in Grand Isle.

  • Estimated Damages: $84.6 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Louisiana with flash flooding occurring in many states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 96

Hurricane Irma – September 2017

Three Hurricanes Katia Irma Jose 2017 Cloud Map Caribbean Sea 3D Render Color
Source: FrankRamspott / E+ via Getty Images
Hurricane Irma first hit the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Irma was a category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It picked up speed again and was a category 4 hurricane when it devastated the Florida Keys, destroying a quarter of the island’s homes and businesses. Irma also landed in second place as the longest run as a category 5 Atlantic hurricane. Hurricane Ivan (2004) holds that record.

  • Estimated Damages: $63.5 billion
  • Area/s Affected: U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and South Carolina
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 97

Hurricane Michael – October 2018

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
In 2018, Hurricane Michael caused an estimated $31 billion in damages.

As another category 5 hurricane, Michael created a storm surge topping 15 feet and caused tremendous damage to Tyndall Air Force Base.

  • Estimated Damages: $31 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Florida
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 49

California Firestorm – Summer and Fall of 2018

Source: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
Fueled by high winds and low humidity, the rapidly spreading Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise.

More than 18,500 homes and businesses were destroyed when The Camp Fire started in 2018. This firestorm also includes the Mendicino Complex Fire that destroyed more than 450,000 acres and two others, leading to more than 8.7 million acres burning. While each fire was caused by unintentional acts of people, the dry weather, winds, and drought conditions caused very dry grass, which quickly spread.

  • Estimated Damages: $30 billion
  • Area/s Affected: California
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 106

Hurricane Florence – September 2018

Hurricane Florence over the Atlantics close to the US coast, viewed from the space station. Gaping eye of a category 4 hurricane. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.
Source: Elena11 / Shutterstock.com
Hurricane Florence led to rainfall of upwards of 36 inches in some places.

Frustratingly, it was the speed at which Florence moved that became the biggest issue. Winds weren’t as big a problem. The hurricane was only a category 1, but the slow movement led to rainfall of upwards of 36 inches in some areas.

  • Estimated Damages: $29.8 billion
  • Area/s Affected: North Carolina and South Carolina
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 53

Hurricane Laura – August 2020

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images News via Getty Images
Hurricane Laura caused storm surges that topped 15 feet.

Winds topping 150 miles per hour wreaked havoc in Louisiana when Hurricane Laura hit. Storm surges topped 15 feet and destroyed areas of the electrical grid and water treatment plants. It was the strongest hurricane to hit since 1856.

  • Estimated Damages: $28.1 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 42

Winter Storm Uri – February 2021

Sunrise over Texas Landscape covered in White Powder Snow during winter storm Uri over a foot of fresh snow in Round Rock north of Austin , Texas , USA
Source: Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock.com
A number of states were affected by Winter Storm Uri.

Uri moved from the northwest to the other side of the nation over nine days. Many states were impacted with upwards of 10 million people without power. It’s the most expensive winter storm in history, topping 1993’s Storm of the Century.

  • Estimated Damages: $27 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri, and Mississippi
  • Number of Dead: 262

Western and Central Heat Wave – 2022

Woman driver has problem with a non-working conditioner, hand checking flow cold air, being hot during heat wave in car, suffering from summer hot weather, wipes sweat from her forehead with tissue.
Source: DimaBerlin / Shutterstock.com
Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas experienced a severe drought in 2022.

Year-long heatwaves and lack of rainfall across the western and central regions of the U.S. caused a severe drought in many states. Lake Mead and the Great Salt Lake reached or neared their lowest levels.

  • Estimated Damages: $23.5 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas
  • Number of Dead: 136

Western Wildfires – June to December 2017

A helicopter dropping water on a California wildfire in rugged terrain, backlit by a setting sun filtered through multiple layers of smoke
Source: David Aughenbaugh / Shutterstock.com
California and Montana experienced major wildfires in 2017.

Extended drought conditions from lack of rainfall and dry weather caused major wildfires in California and Montana. More than 9.8 million acres burned, and Montana alone saw more than 1 million acres destroyed.

  • Estimated Damages: $23 billion
  • Area/s Affected: California and Montana
  • Number of Dead: 54

Western Wildfires – August to December 2020

Forest fire in the mountains
Source: POLACOSTUDIOS / Shutterstock.com
The Western Wildfires of 2020 were mostly the result of lightning.

Lightning was a primary cause of wildfires that burned more than 4.1 million acres on the West Coast.

  • Estimated Damages: $19.9 billion
  • Area/s Affected: California, Oregon, and Washington
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 46

Southern and Midwestern Heatwaves – April to September 2023

herd of hereford cows in green grassy pasture on agricultural farm brown and white cows with white faces looking at camera in the countryside horizontal format room for type beef industry background
Source: Shawn Hamilton / Shutterstock.com
The lack of rainfall in 2023 made it hard to feed cattle and other farm animals.

Drought conditions spurred on by a long-running heatwave impacted farmers throughout the south and midwestern U.S. Grass and other crops didn’t grow thanks to the lack of rainfall, which made it hard to feed cattle and other farm animals. As a result, some ranchers sold off livestock long before planned.

  • Estimated Damages: $14.8 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Illinois, and Louisiana
  • Number of Dead: 247

Missouri River Flooding – March 2019

Source: Scott Olson / Getty Images
Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base was one of the many structures damaged by flooding in 2019.

Record-breaking rains led to flooding that damaged levees, dams, roads, bridges, and fields. Nebraska’s Offutt Air Force Base was damaged by flooding, too. It would become the most expensive flooding in U.S. history.

  • Estimated Damages: $13.4 billion
  • Area/s Affected: North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan
  • Number of Dead and/or Missing: 3

Central Derecho – August 2020

Derecho storm clouds and severe weather
Source: mdesigner125 / iStock via Getty Images
The Central Derecho of 2020 caused destruction from South Dakota to Ohio.

The National Weather Service defines a derecho as a “widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” In 2020, the Central Derecho caused widespread destruction from South Dakota to Ohio in 14 hours.

  • Estimated Damages: $13.3 billion
  • Area/s Affected: South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, and Ohio
  • Number of Dead: 4

Louisiana Flood – August 2016

Source: Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Over 70,000 homes and businesses were damaged in the Louisiana Flood of 2016.

A two-day storm dumped over 31 inches of rain in Watson, Louisiana. Over 70,000 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Plus, more than 30,000 people had to be rescued from rising flood waters.

  • Estimated Damages: $13.2 billion
  • Area/s Affected: Louisiana
  • Number of Dead: 13

Hurricane Matthew – October 2016

Source: Sean Rayford / Getty Images
Hurricane Matthew caused 49 deaths and an estimated $13 billion in damages.

When Hurricane Matthew made landfall, it was a category 1 hurricane. Winds, storm surges, and flooding damaged more than 100,000 homes and businesses.

  • Estimated Damages: $13 billion
  • Area/s Affected: North Carolina
  • Number of Dead: 49

Western Wildfires – June to December 2021

Climate change and Global warming is a driver of global wildfire trends.
Source: Toa55 / Shutterstock.com
The Dixie Fire in California burned 960,000 acres.

Prolonged periods of heat and lack of rain triggered wildfires in many western states in the summer, fall, and winter of 2021. One of the largest of this string of wildfires was the Dixie Fire in California, which burned 960,000 acres.

  • Estimated Damages: $12 billion
  • Area/s Affected: California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Arizona
  • Number of Dead: 8

Western Heat Dome – January to December 2021

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
A heat dome occurs when the atmosphere traps hot ocean air.

Much of the U.S. is experiencing a heat dome in 2024. It’s not the first time this oppressive heat has been trapped for an extended period. A heat dome impacted people in Oregon, Washington, and Canada. Portland, Oregon, saw temperatures of up to 116ºF. Lake Oroville in California had to shut down a hydroelectric plant due to low water levels from the heat and lack of rainfall.

  • Estimated Damages: $10.1 billion
  • Area/s Affected: California, Oregon, and Washington
  • Number of Dead: 229

Those are the 20 most catastrophic storms of the last decade to hit the U.S. or one of its territories. Learn more about history-making events in every state by reading The Biggest Weather, Fires, and Events in Every State’s History.

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