Hurricane Ian Among Ten Worst Natural Disasters In U.S. History (2023)

We are in the early stages of sifting through the debris of Hurricane Ian and calculating the financial and human toll it took after coming ashore in Southwest Florida with 150 mph winds and 20 inches of rain. The insured losses expected to flow from this natural disaster are still being calculated, but estimates range from $60 billion to more than $80 billion and some are already speculating as to where this storm ranks among the top ten natural disasters in U.S. history.

Ranking natural disasters tends to be somewhat arbitrary. Whether or not a storm which kills three people is worse than one which causes $1 billion in damages is perhaps something that should be left to philosophers and theologians. Ranking the “deadliest” natural disasters would undoubtedly result in a slightly different list. However, in the context of subrogation and with relevance to the insurance industry, for purposes of the following list particular weight is placed on physical property damage, although both loss of property and loss of life affect the insurance industry.

In terms of U.S. natural disasters, perhaps it can be said that America has been lucky. None of the ten worst natural disasters in U.S. history even make the top ten deadliest natural disaster in world history. For example, Wuhan, China makes news again when you consider that the deadliest natural disaster in the history of the planet was the 1931 China floods. These were a series of floods that occurred from June to August 1931 in China, hitting major cities such as Wuhan, Nanjing and beyond, and resulted in the deaths of 4 million people.

In the U.S., however, and using the conservative estimate of $60 billion in damages from Hurricane Ian, the list of the Top Ten Worst Natural Disasters In U.S. History (based solely on a financial toll and insurance losses caused in 2022 dollars) looks something like this:

(Video) President Biden says destruction from Hurricane Ian among the worst in U.S history

(1) Winter Storm Uri. February 13-17, 2021. The North American winter storm, unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri, was a major winter and ice storm that struck during the week of Valentine’s Day and had widespread impacts across the U.S., Northern Mexico, and parts of Canada. The storm hit states such as Texas particularly hard and caused an estimated $195.6 billion in property damage. It is now the most expensive natural disaster in the history of the U.S. The storm left millions without power for a week and millions of residences sustained broken pipes, flood damages, and catastrophic losses to property. Following the storm, the attorneys at MWL began to investigate how and why the power grid in Texas failed. What we discovered was that the loss of power could have likely been prevented but for the negligence of the power providers and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), who manages Texas’ power grid.

(2) Hurricane Katrina. August 29, 2005. The Atlantic storm that began as a Category 1 hurricane as it blew across southern Florida wound up being the country’s costliest tragedy. Katrina roared into the Louisiana coast with 125 mph sustained winds, causing a storm surge that broke levees that shielded New Orleans from surrounding, higher coastal waters, and leaving 80% of the city under water. Katrina killed at least 1,836 people and inflicted an estimated $150 billion in damages.

(3) Hurricane Galveston. September 8, 1900. Galveston was known at the end of the 19th Century as the “Jewel of Texas” until the single deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history wiped away much of what had been a booming future. The bustling island community had been the hub of the cotton trade and Texas’ largest city. Progress bred complacency though, which became apparent when city officials and residents decided against building a seawall to protect the city. When the Category 4 hurricane with estimated 135 mph winds made landfall in the early morning, buildings crumbled under the force of 15-foot-high waves. By late afternoon, the entire island was submerged. An estimated 8,000 – 10,000 people perished. The city sustained $105 billion in damages. Although the city was successfully rebuilt, it never regained the prosperity that earned it a reputation as the “New York of the south.”

(Video) Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré: Hurricane Ian Recovery ‘Is Gonna Be One Of The Worst In American History’

(4) Dust Bowl – 1930’s. Prior to the early 1930’s, the Great Plains was a farmer’s paradise. Rising demands for wheat spurred settlers to plow much of the southern plains’ grassy soil to meet this need. The land was eventually exposed to erosion, since grass and tree roots that had held the moist soil in place during dry times were replaced by cash crops. A decade-long drought transformed the loose topsoil into dust, which windstorms swept up and blew eastward, darkening skies as far away as the Atlantic Coast. With most of the area’s crops decimated, a third of the farmers turned to government aid, while around half a million Americans were left homeless. An estimated 3,000 people died and there was $100 billion in damages.

(5) Hurricane Ida – August 26, 2021. Scarcely a year ago, the deadly and destructive Category 4 Atlantic hurricane dubbed “Hurricane Ida” became the second-most damaging and intense hurricane to make landfall in the Louisiana on record, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It’s maximum sustained winds at landfall (150 mph) ties 2020’s Hurricane Laura and the 1856 Last Island hurricane as the strongest on record to hit the state. The remnants of the storm also caused a tornado outbreak and catastrophic flooding across the Northeastern United States, resulting in total damages of at least $65 billion across the country.

(6) Heat Wave of 1988. A year-long drought that had ravaged the agricultural economy was further exacerbated by the heat wave of 1988. Damage to the agricultural economy surpassed $61 billion, as total rainfall along the Great Plains region from April through June was even lower than during the Dust Bowl years. Drought conditions seeded wildfires that raged across Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore that summer. Approximately 5,000 people died due to health complications stemming from the sweltering heat.

(7) Hurricane Ian – September 29, 2022. The hurricane made landfall in Florida on as a powerful Category 4 storm. Maximum sustained winds were around 150 mph as it hit the southwest coast at the island of Cayo Costa near Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Within four days more than 2.5 million residents were without power. Wind and storm surges resulted in the death of 100 persons in three states and an estimated property damage of $60 billion.

(Video) Top 10 Worst Hurricanes In US History

(8) Heat Wave of 1980. The heat wave of 1980 proved to be one of the nation’s most catastrophic prolonged weather events. A high-pressure ridge pushed temperatures across the central and southern U.S. above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Agricultural damage tallied an estimated $48 billion due to a massive drought, and 1,700 people died from heat and heat stress-related ailments.

(9) Great San Francisco Fire and Earthquake – April 18, 1906. It lasted no more than a minute, but set off a chain of events that caused the city to burn for four straight days. The estimated 7.7- to 7.9-magnitude earthquake not only broke natural gas mains, which sparked the fires, but also damaged water mains, leaving the fire department with limited resources to battle the blaze. By the time the fires were doused, flames had devoured more than 500 city blocks, 3,000 lives were lost, and there was $30 billion in damages. Of those who survived, approximately 225,000 people found themselves without a home.

(10) Lake Okeechobee Hurricane – September 16, 1928. The hurricane crossed over the lake in central Florida west of Miami, killing at least 2,500 and causing $18 billion in damage. When the evacuated residents of Lake Okeechobee learned that a hurricane hadn’t arrived on schedule, many returned home, thinking that they had been spared. The storm, however, slammed ashore later on the evening of September 16th with sustained 140 mph winds. Such intensity broke a small dike at the lake’s south end, resulting in weeks of heavy flooding.

In the casino-like world of underwriting, insurance companies wager against catastrophic natural disasters big enough to put them into receivership. Insurance is the thin white line that separates us from destitution and anarchy when God sends a hurricane, tornado, flood, wildfire, earthquake, or other natural disaster. Aggressive subrogation practices ensure that insurance companies are not left standing alone when devastation takes place. Damage which could have been prevented but for the negligence of a person or company should be borne by the wrongdoer. That is the function and purpose of subrogation. For information on the investigation of and pursuit of subrogation potential in the aftermath of natural disasters, contact Gary Wickert at [emailprotected].

(Video) The WORST Hurricane to hit Every US Atlantic Coastal State


Gary L. Wickert is an insurance trial lawyer and shareholder with the law firm of Matthiesen, Wickert & Lehrer, S.C. He practices out of the corporate office in Hartford, Wisconsin. Gary has nearly four decades of litigation experience and is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts on insurance subrogation. He is the author of several subrogation books and legal treatises and is a national and international speaker and lecturer on subrogation. He can be reached at [emailprotected] or (800) 637-9176.

Published in Claims Journal on October 25, 2022 and Insurance Journal on October 26, 2022.


Is Hurricane Ian the worst hurricane in history? ›

Ian made landfall in southwest Florida on Sept. 28, 2022 as a Category 4 Hurricane with max winds of 150 mph. By wind speed, it's tied for the fourth strongest hurricane at landfall in Florida history, only behind the “Labor Day” Hurricane (1935), Hurricane Andrew (1992) and Hurricane Michael (2018).

What are the top 10 worst hurricanes to hit the US? ›

Here are 10 of the worst hurricanes to hit the US
  • The Cheniere Caminada Hurricane 1893. ...
  • Galveston Hurricane 1900. ...
  • San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane 1928. ...
  • The Great Labor Day Hurricane 1935. ...
  • Hurricane Camille 1969. ...
  • Hurricane Andrew 1992. ...
  • Hurricane Katrina 2005. ...
  • Hurricane Sandy 2012.
28 Sept 2022

What was the worst natural disaster in the United States? ›

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the single deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, it resulted in a massive 6,000 – 12,000 casualties. It damaged every single building in the city. Out of 38,000 residents, 30,000 were left homeless.

What are the 10 worst natural disasters? ›

Ten deadliest natural disasters by highest estimated death toll excluding epidemics and famines
Death toll (Highest estimate)EventDate
2,000,0001887 Yellow River floodSeptember 1887
830,0001556 Shaanxi earthquakeJanuary 23, 1556
655,0001976 Tangshan earthquakeJuly 28, 1976
500,0001970 Bhola cycloneNovember 13, 1970
6 more rows

What is the number 1 worst hurricane? ›

Great Galveston Hurricane

What is the biggest hurricane in U.S. history? ›

The Most Intense Hurricanes in the United States 1851-2004
1Unnamed (FL Keys)1935
2Camille (MS, SE LA, VA)1969
3Andrew (SE FL, SE LA)1992
4TX (Indianola)1886
70 more rows

What are the top 10 worst hurricanes in the world? ›

Top Ten Worst Hurricanes
  1. 1 Hurricane Katrina, 2005. ...
  2. 2 Hurricane Harvey, 2017. ...
  3. 3 Hurricane Irma, 2017. ...
  4. 4 Hurricane Andrew, 1992. ...
  5. 5 Hurricane Maria, 2017. ...
  6. 6 Hurricane Mitch, 1998. ...
  7. 7 Hurricane Sandy, 2013. ...
  8. 8 The Great Galveston Hurricane, 1900.

What are the 5 strongest hurricanes to hit the US? ›

Hurricane Ian may be among top 5 most powerful hurricanes to make US landfall
  • Labor Day Hurricane (1935): 185 mph.
  • Hurricane Camille: 175 mph.
  • 1992 Hurricane Andrew: 165 mph.
  • 2018 Hurricane Michael: 160 mph.
28 Sept 2022

Is Hurricane Ian worse than Katrina? ›

Hurricane Ian is now the deadliest hurricane in the continental United States since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It made landfall on September 28 along Florida's gulf coast at Category 4 strength, with sustained winds of 155 mph driving a storm surge as high as 18 feet, flinging boats and sweeping homes off foundations.

What is the number 1 worst natural disaster? ›

Excessive rainfall over central China in July and August of 1931 triggered the most deadly natural disaster in world history — the Central China floods of 1931.

What was the worst natural disaster in 2022? ›

The third-quarter Aon report focused on three of the most consequential disasters of 2022: Florida's Hurricane Ian, the summer drought and heat waves in Europe, and monsoon flooding in Pakistan.

What's the biggest natural disaster in history? ›

The tropical cyclone that racked Galveston, Texas is the deadliest natural disaster in US history taking the lives of an estimated 12,000 people on September 18th, 1900. The category 4 hurricane had winds blowing upwards of 145 mph killing 1 in 6 residents and utterly destroying 3,600 homes.

Which country has the worst disasters? ›

The report systematically considers a country's vulnerability and its exposure to natural hazards to determine a ranking of countries around the world based on their natural disaster risk.
Rankings by country.
76 more columns

Is hurricane 1 or 5 stronger? ›

Category 5 hurricanes are the most devastating, with sustained winds of at least 157 mph.

What hurricane has killed the most people? ›

There have been 13 tropical cyclones in the 21st century so far with a death toll of at least 1,000, of which the deadliest was Cyclone Nargis, with at least 138,373 deaths when it struck Myanmar.

What was the first hurricane name? ›

The first US named hurricane (unofficially named) was George, which hit in 1947.

What are the 3 biggest hurricanes in history? ›

The largest hurricane death toll on record is the Bangladesh Cyclone of 1970, an estimated 500,000 people died due to the storm surge, according to the National Weather Service.
  • Florida (Keys) - 1935, 408 casualties.
  • Louisiana (Last Island) - 1856, 400 casualties.
  • Florida (Miami) - 1926, 372 casualties.

What is the largest hurricane on Earth? ›

Typhoon Tip was the largest tropical cyclone on record, with a diameter of 1,380 mi (2,220 km)—almost double the previous record of 700 mi (1,130 km) set by Typhoon Marge in August 1951.

Who named hurricanes? ›

The NHC does not control the naming of tropical storms. Instead a strict procedure has been established by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of names for each of six years. In other words, one list is repeated every sixth year.

What is the top 10 hurricanes? ›

Hurricane Michael (2018): 155-mph in Florida. Hurricane Ian (2022): 150-mph in Florida; Hurricane Ida (2021): 150-mph in Louisiana; Hurricane Laura (2020): 150-mph in Louisiana; Hurricane Charley (2004): 150-mph in Florida; 1932 Freeport Hurricane: 150-mph in Texas; 1919 Florida Keys Hurricane: 150-mph in Florida.

What causes a hurricane? ›

Hurricanes form when warm moist air over water begins to rise. The rising air is replaced by cooler air. This process continues to grow large clouds and thunderstorms. These thunderstorms continue to grow and begin to rotate thanks to earth's Coriolis Effect.

Has anyone died hurricane Ian? ›

Ian caused more deaths in Florida — at least 114 — than any hurricane in almost 90 years. Five other people died from the storm in North Carolina, as well as one in Virginia. Like Ms. Santangelo, residents became trapped in floodwaters inside their homes.

What was the most recent hurricane 2022? ›

Last week, Hurricane Ian pushed through Cuba and made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Florida's west coast, battering the city of Fort Meyers with high winds and a major storm surge, leaving at least 100 people dead.

What states get hit hardest by hurricanes? ›

Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) shows that there have been more than 300 hurricanes that have directly hit the U.S. coastline since 1851, of which more than 80% of those hit just three states—Florida, Texas, and Louisiana.

What's the strongest hurricane to hit Florida? ›

The strongest hurricane to hit Florida was the Labor Day hurricane in 1935, which had winds of 180 mph when it struck the Florida Keys.

When was the last bad hurricane in Florida? ›

Additionally, the cumulative impact from the storms has totalled over US$216.1 billion in damage (2018 dollars), primarily from Hurricane Andrew, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael in the 1992, 2017, and 2018 seasons respectively. The most recent hurricane to make landfall in Florida was Nicole in 2022.

How many died during Katrina? ›

What was the first natural disaster? ›

The Lisbon earthquake of 1755 was probably the first natural disaster that shaped the viewpoint of natural and geophysical phenomena as the agents responsible for a natural disaster [19].

What is the scariest natural disaster? ›

We surveyed 2,000 people from across the country, asking, “What's the Scariest Natural Disaster?” The scariest disaster with 34% of the vote were tornadoes. Earthquakes were next on the list of America's fears with 24% of the vote, followed by hurricanes (19%), flooding (11%), mudslides (9%), and lightning (3%).

What natural disasters are going to happen in 2022? ›

Activation EventPeriod
Storm Paeng in PhilippinesOctober 31, 2022 - November 13, 2022
Flooding after Tropical Storm NoruOctober 20, 2022 - November 3, 2022
Flooding in ChadOctober 20, 2022 - November 03, 2022
Hurricane Julia in HondurasOctober 17, 2022 - October 27, 2022
35 more rows

Will there be any natural disasters in 2022? ›

Hurricanes and tornadoes

The most powerful tropical cyclone recorded in 2022, Typhoon Hinnamnor, is expected to cause devastating flooding and damage to the southern islands of Japan and parts of South Korea with wind gusts to 185 mph.

Are there more natural disasters in 2022? ›

More Disasters

2022 is the eighth consecutive year with 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate-related disasters. The long-term (1980–2021) annual average is about seven billion-dollar disasters per year.

What are the top 5 most common natural disasters? ›

The most common ones are earthquakes, droughts, storms, floods, volcanic activity, extreme temperatures, landslides, and wild fires.

Which disaster caused the most damage? ›

The most expensive disaster in human history is the Chernobyl disaster, costing an estimated $700 billion.

What is the most famous disaster? ›

The following are lists of disasters.
  • Sinking of the RMS Titanic, 1912.
  • Starvation in Bengal, 1943.
  • Aeroplane crash in Smolensk, 2010.
  • Oil in Gulf of Mexico, 2010.
  • Tōhoku Earthquake, 2011.
  • Grounding of Costa Concordia, 2012.
  • Moore Tornado, 2013.

What country has no natural disasters? ›

The World Risk Report has consistently named Qatar as the nation where you have the lowest risk of natural disasters. With its sheltered position inside the Persian Gulf, Qatar is protected from tropical cyclones. There are no earthquakes or volcanoes because it is far from any fault lines.

What part of the US is safest from natural disasters? ›

Montana features both the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains and is one of the safest states from natural disasters. It is generally safe from hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes, however, it does experience flooding. With that said, there have only been five significant floods in Montana in the past century.

What place has no natural disasters? ›

Michigan is considered to be the state with the least natural disasters, with a minor chance of earthquakes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Any natural disasters that have happened there have usually been less intense than they might be in other states.

What is the name of the worst hurricane in history? ›

What Was the Worst Hurricane in History?
  • #8: Hurricane Michael (2018) ...
  • #7: Hurricane Camille (1969) ...
  • #6: Hurricane Andrew (1992) ...
  • #5: The 1926 Hurricane. ...
  • #4: Hurricane Harvey (2017) ...
  • #3: 1900 Hurricane. ...
  • #2: Hurricane Katrina (2005) ...
  • #1: Hurricane Maria (2017)

Is Hurricane Ian worse than Irma? ›

Both hurricanes caused large storm surges — about 10 feet of water — near Naples and Fort Myers with strong onshore winds, while the water got “sucked” out of Tampa Bay by offshore winds associated with the hurricane. Ian is a larger storm than Irma, in terms of size of strong wind and rain areas.

Is Hurricane Ian worse than Hurricane Andrew? ›

Hurricane-force winds for Andrew - a very tight cyclone - had a diameter of 50 miles compared to the much larger 240-mile diameter of Ian. The tropical storm force winds for Andrew may have extended as wide as 180 miles, but that pales in comparison to the massive 500-mile storm that was Ian.

What is the most recent hurricane 2022? ›

Last week, Hurricane Ian pushed through Cuba and made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane on Florida's west coast, battering the city of Fort Meyers with high winds and a major storm surge, leaving at least 100 people dead.

Where is the safest place for hurricanes? ›

Go to a safe area, such as an interior room, closet or downstairs bathroom. Never go outside the protection of your home or shelter before there is confirmation that the storm has passed the area. The eye of the storm could create a temporary and deceptive lull, with high winds still approaching.

Where is the safest location from hurricanes? ›

Stay inside and away from windows, skylights and glass doors. Find a safe area in the home (an interior room, a closet or bathroom on the lower level).

Where is the deadliest hurricane? ›

Galveston, Texas Hurricane of 1900

Considered the deadliest U.S. natural disaster, the Category 4 hurricane in Galveston, Texas, destroyed more than 3,600 buildings with 135 mph winds, according to the History Channel. The estimated death toll is in a range from 6,000 to 12,000.

How do they name hurricanes? ›

The NHC does not control the naming of tropical storms. Instead a strict procedure has been established by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. For Atlantic hurricanes, there is a list of names for each of six years. In other words, one list is repeated every sixth year.


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