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Taking a look back at the strongest hurricanes and busiest storm seasons on record

POSTED September 12, 2017 8:39 a.m.
The 2017 hurricane season in the U.S. could suddenly become one of the more devastating seasons in recent history.

On the heels of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma is heading toward Florida after tearing through the Caribbean. Hurricane Jose was upgraded to Category 4 Friday, making three major hurricanes in the Atlantic in the past two weeks.

Where does this season rank historically? Below are hurricanes by the numbers, using data from the National Hurricane Center.

Busiest seasons on record

When it comes to busy seasons, 2005 takes the cake. That year produced a record 28 storms and 15 hurricanes, and nearly half of those became major hurricanes — the second-most major hurricanes on record for one year. That includes infamous Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, which became the costliest and strongest on record.

It was busy enough to force hurricane trackers to use the Greek alphabet for the first time to name storms because they had run out of names, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“(The 2005) hurricane season shattered records that have stood for decades — most named storms, most hurricanes and most Category 5 storms, said Conrad Lautenbacher Jr., Ph.D., former undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator at the end of that year, according to the NOAA.

Only 1950 produced more major hurricanes in one year, coming in with eight. To put 2017 in perspective, it would need three more major hurricanes to make the top 10 all-time, which is certainly possible as the hurricane season continues.

Most named storms in a year

1. 2005: 28

2. 1933: 21

3. 2010, 1995, 1887: 19

6. 1969: 18

7. 1936, 2003, 2008: 16

Most hurricanes in a year

1. 2005: 15

2. 2010, 1969: 12

4. 1995, 1950, 1887: 11

7. 1998, 1933, 1916, 1893, 1886, 1878, 1870: 10

Most major hurricanes in a year (Category 3+)

1. 1950: 8

2. 2005, 1961: 7

4. 2004, 1996, 1964, 1955, 1926: 6

The largest storm to make landfall

Irma crashed into the Caribbean as one of the largest hurricanes on record, but was downgraded to Category 4, with sustained winds reaching 155 mph as of Friday evening. However, the National Hurricane Center projects it will make landfall in the U.S. as a Category 5 Saturday night.

If this ends up being the case, it would be just the fourth Category 5 storm ever to make landfall in the U.S. mainland in recorded history, joining the 1935 “Labor Day” storm (meteorologists began naming hurricanes in 1953), Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992.

The 1935 hurricane actually remains the strongest storm to make landfall in the U.S. at 892 millibars (a measurement of air pressure) and 160 mph winds.

The “Labor Day” storm created headlines all over the U.S. at its time, including Utah. For example, it dominated the front page of the Deseret News for several days as the death tolls rose and the total damage was realized.

According to WeatherUnderground.com, Irma reached as low as 914 millibars on Wednesday, with 185 mph sustained winds. Irma was at 924 millibars Friday evening, which, if sustained would bump an 1886 Texas hurricane off the list as the fifth-largest storm to make landfall based on air pressure.

The strongest recorded hurricanes to make landfall in U.S. (in millibars)

1. “Labor Day” Storm (1935): 892

2. Camille (1969): 909

3. Katrina (2005): 920

4. Andrew (1992): 922

5. Texas hurricane (1886): 925

If the 155 mph winds recorded Friday evening are maintained, Irma would have the second-strongest wind speed at landfall, ahead of Hurricane Camille in 1969. Irma already has a record for holding 185 mph winds for at least 24 hours.

The deadliest storm in history

The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest storm recorded in U.S. history, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm killed an estimated 8,000 people after making landfall in Texas as a Category 4.

A hurricane that hit Florida in 1928 killed 2,500 people. Total deaths from Hurricane Katrina reached up to 1,800 people over time (overall estimates range from 1,200 to 1,800.) At least 70 people have died as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which would put it the 27th deadliest storm in U.S. history if the death toll does not rise.

Deadliest storms in U.S. history

(Figures are as of the year the hurricane touched down.)

1. Galveston (1900): 8,000

2. Okeechobee, Florida (1928): 2,500

3. Katrina (2005): 1,200

4. Cheniere Caminada, Louisiana (1893): 1,100-1,400

5. Sea Islands, South Carolina and Georgia (1893): 1,000-2,000

A new costliest storm?

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 remains the costliest hurricane on record. The hurricane that slammed into New Orleans accumulated $108 billion in damage, according to Time.

Nine of the top 10 costliest storms, including superstorms, occurred after 2000, the magazine reports. Only Hurricane Andrew, in 1992, happened before the 21st century.

However, AccuWeather predicts Harvey will become the costliest hurricane in history — a whopping $190 billion. It remains to be seen how expensive Irma will be but, as a powerful hurricane, some fear it could be even more costly.

Costliest hurricanes

(Not adjusted for inflation)

1. Katrina (2005): $108 billion

2. Ike (2008): $29.52 billion

3. Andrew (1992): $26.5 billion

4. Wilma (2005): $21 billion

5. Ivan (2004): $18.82 billion

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