What Are the Most Costly Hurricanes, and How Can You Prepare for One?

Along with tornadoes, hurricanes might be the worst natural disasters that happen in the United States.

Even if you’ve never experienced a hurricane first-hand, you probably know the names of the biggest ones to make landfall in the U.S. Technically, the Atlantic hurricane seasons runs June 1 to November 30 each year, but September typically is when the peak of the season starts.

Rescued dog hurricane

A volunteer saves a dog during Hurricane Harvey. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

We’ll tell you how to prepare for a hurricane, but first, let’s look at the most costly hurricanes to hit the U.S. over the years.

The 10 costliest hurricanes to hit the United States

It’s not just the rain and winds that do damage during a hurricane, Flooding, ocean storm surges, landslides, and the long-term impact on your health are threats, too.

Hurricanes come in five classes, based on wind speed:

  • Category 1: Winds from 74 to 95 mph.
  • Category 2: Wind speeds from 96 to 110 mph.
  • Category 3: Winds from 11 to 129 mph.
  • Category 4: Wind speeds from 130 to 156 mph
  • Category 5: Winds at or above 157 mph.

When talking strictly about physical damages, these are the costliest hurricanes in 2017 dollars, per the National Hurricane Center.

10. Rita

flooded school bus

Hurricane Rita hit New Orleans hard. | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Cost: $23.6 billion

Year: 2005

Rita hit northeast Texas and southwest Louisiana in September 2005, which was a big year for powerful hurricanes.

9. Wilma

Cost: $24.3 billion

Year: 2005

Another 2005 storm, Category 3 Wilma pounded south Florida in late October of that year. The damages added up to $19 billion at the time and more than $24 billion in 2017 dollars.

8. Ivan

Cost: $27 billion

Year: 2004

A month after Hurricane Charley (the No. 11 costliest at $21.1 billion in 2017 dollars) hit central Florida, along came Ivan. It made landfall in Alabama and along the Florida panhandle, but flood damage extended as far as Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

7. Ike

Cost: $34.8 billion

Year: 2008

Ike wasn’t overly powerful — it was a Category 2 storm — but it was big and lumbering, and its winds impacted states as far away as Ohio and Michigan.

6. Andrew

Cost: $47.8 billion

Year: 1992

Many of the 10 costliest hurricanes impacted Florida, but Andrew is the only one from the 20th century. It’s also one of just a few Category 5 hurricanes ever to hit the U.S.

The hurricane risk is one reason the Sunshine State might be the most-hated state in America.

5. Irma

NOAA's GOES satellite shows Hurricane Irma as it moves towards the Florida Coast in the Caribbean Sea

Hurricane Irma toward the Florida coast. | NOAA GOES Project via Getty Images

Cost: $50 billion

Year: 2017

Irma was a Category 5 when it swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands and a Category 4 when it smacked into Florida.

4. Sandy

Cost: $70.2 billion

Year: 2012

Similar to Ike, Category 2 Sandy wasn’t especially powerful, but it was large, and it did a lot of damage to New York City and northern New Jersey.

3. Maria

Cost: $90 billion

Year: 2017

Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and made the island’s downtrodden economy even worse.

2. Harvey

Cost: $125 billion

Year: 2017

Harvey hit Texas in August 2017, lumbered there, and then swung east to Louisiana. All told, it’s one of the costliest hurricanes in American history and one of the reasons the Lone Star State is one of the worst for natural disasters.

1. Katrina

Hurricane Katrina

Katrina devastated Slidell, La., northeast of New Orleans and remains the costliest ever. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Cost: $160 billion

Year: 2005

Katrina crossed Florida as a Category 1, but it hit Louisiana (especially New Orleans) as Category 3 after strengthening in the Gulf of Mexico.

How do hurricanes form?

NASA has all the in-depth details about hurricanes, but how they form is pretty simple. It all stems from the warm air rises, cool air descends mantra from grade school.

Warm, moist air near the surface of tropical ocean waters rises and condenses into clouds. The air that moves in and refills the vacuum also is warmed by the ocean and rises, and it contributes to more cloud formation. The process continues until the winds reach 74 mph and you have a hurricane.

A hurricane warning and a hurricane watch — what’s the difference?

The powers that be probably could have done a better job with the words of caution since watch and warning convey similar meanings. In this case, a warning is the more serious of the two.

A watch means hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours. A warning means hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

How do you prepare for a hurricane?

There’s no tried and true way to ride out hurricanes. The Department of Homeland Security provides a few tips, though.

Residents board up their windows

Cover your windows before a hurricane makes landfall. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Have an evacuation plan if you decide to flee from a storm. Or, have a good plan if you choose to stay where you are.

  • When a hurricane is 36 hours away: Listen to weather reports. Restock emergency supplies (including food, water, and medicine). Plan how to communicate with family and friends during the storm.
  • When a hurricane is 18-36 hours away: Cover windows, trim trees, and bring lightweight outdoor objects that become projectiles inside. Charge your cell phone battery when the storm is between six and 18 hours from hitting.
  • When the hurricane is less than six hours from hitting: Stay put if you haven’t evacuated, and stay away from windows. Turn your refrigerator and freezer to the coldest settings, and don’t open them unless you need to. Check the weather report every 30 minutes.
  • During a hurricane: Go to the highest floor if you’re in a flooded building. Don’t walk, swim, or drive through, flood waters.