Home Emergency Management News Where Does Irma Rank among the Worst US Hurricanes?

Where Does Irma Rank among the Worst US Hurricanes?

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

Hurricane Irma is currently a remnant of its former self - a nasty weather system hovering over the Midwest. However, at its peak, the monster storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph making it the second strongest Atlantic hurricane after Hurricane Allen in 1980. Allen had recorded winds of 190 mph.

“The five hurricane categories of the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale are defined solely by wind speed, and don't take storm surge, heavy rain or barometric pressure into account. Any hurricane with winds of 157 mph or greater is a Category 5,” USA Today explained.

The three deadliest hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. in recent years were Katrina in 2005, Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969.

Monster Hurricane Devastated the Florida Keys in 1935

An unnamed but historic hurricane devastated the Florida Keys in 1935. That monster storm set the previous record for Atlantic hurricanes with recorded winds of 185 mph. A total of 408 people died, many of them World War I veterans working in the area, U.S. News and World Report said. The storm also caused an estimated $6 million in damage.

The high death toll in the Florida Keys was ascribed to poor to non-existent early warning alert systems and inadequate building codes to protect homes and other structures. In addition, the storm severely damaged the only highway and series of bridges leading off the island chain toward Miami, which made evacuation difficult.

“Although the 1935 storm may have been the strongest, it was far from the deadliest. The hurricane that flattened Galveston, Texas, in 1900 killed an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 people,” USA Today noted. Other sources put the death toll between 8,000 and 12,000. The Galveston hurricane still ranks as the deadliest weather disaster in U.S. history, according to the National Weather Service’s list of major storms.

Improvements in Building Design and Warning Systems Have Reduced Hurricane Fatalities

Since then, there have been many notable improvements in architecture, structural design and building materials. In addition, first responders’ training, advances in early warning systems, radio, television and social media have helped to reduce loss of life and to get necessary warnings to the public.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the major hurricanes in terms of fatalities and damages to reach the U.S. mainland are:

  • Okeechobee Hurricane, 1928: As many as 3,000 killed; $75 million in property damage.
  • Hurricane Katrina, 2005: About 1,200 killed and “catastrophic damage.”
  • The Cheniere Caminada Hurricane off the coast of Louisiana, 1893: Nearly 2,000 killed, damages unreported.
  • The Atlantic-Gulf Hurricane, 1919: An estimated 600 killed, $22 million in damage.
  • The Great New England Hurricane, 1938: About 600 killed and $308 million in damage.
  • Hurricane Audrey, 1957: More than 400 killed; damages estimated at $150 million.
  • Hurricane Camille, 1969: 259 killed; $1.4 billion in damage.
  • Hurricane Andrew 1992: 65 killed; $26.5 billion in damage.

No one knows yet what the financial cost will be from Hurricane Irma. Last week, Congress approved a $7.4 billion supplemental spending package to aid Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey in August.

“That's likely to be just the first drop in the bucket. Harvey is projected to cost as much as $180 billion,” National Public Radio said.

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Most estimates expect the recovery bill for Irma will be much more than that.  AccuWeather expects the back-to-back hurricanes will run up a nearly $300 billion bill, U.S. News and World Report notes.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."