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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

The Ten Deadliest Hurricanes

The Ten Deadliest Hurricanes

In 2006, the Farmers’ Almanac warned us that we were in a very active hurricane period that could continue for the next 20-30 years. With these tempestuous predictions and hurricanes this season, we thought you might be interested in reading about some of the deadlines hurricanes of the past 100-plus years. These storms hold a few facts that might surprise you, as well as lessons that may help us protect ourselves in future years.

10. Camille, 1969
(Ties with the Great New England Hurricane below)
Category: 5 – Wind gusts: 200+ mph – Ocean surge: 24 ft above normal – Deaths: 256

Camille turned from a tropical storm into a hurricane when it was south of Cuba and strengthened as it moved northwestward, striking Mississippi as a Category 5 hurricane. Wind gusts exceeded 200 mph and the ocean surge was 24 feet above the usual high tide. Approximately 143 people were killed along the coast from Louisiana to Alabama, and an additional 113 died as Camille’s rains produced flash floods inland in the Appalachian Mountains.

10. Great New England Hurricane, 1938
(With a death toll approximately the same as Camille)
Category: 3 – Wind gusts: 186 mph – Ocean surge: 17 ft above normal – Deaths: 250+

In 1938, an unnamed hurricane, on unusual air currents, traveled farther north than any other hurricane had since 1815. Later named the “Great New England Hurricane” and also “The Long Island Express,” the U.S. Weather Bureau did not anticipate the storm curving toward land, so it hit Long Island before warnings could be issued. After ripping through Long Island, it tore
into New England as a Category 3 hurricane, sending extreme storm surges into Narragansett Bay and Buzzards Bay. As the hurricane headed inland, its heavy rains produced torrential flooding, especially along the Connecticut River. The number of deaths was estimated to be approximately 250, with some reports putting the number killed as high as 580. A contributing factor to the death toll was the fact that a powerful hurricane had not hit New England in almost a century, so when warnings were finally issued, few people realized just how vulnerable they were.

9. Eastern Texas and New Orleans, 1915
(Both unnamed) Category: Both 4 – Deaths: 275 for each of them
The year 1915 was especially devastating, with five separate hurricanes recorded off the United States. The two worst hit Texas and Louisiana. Eastern Texas, struck on August 17, had approximately 275 deaths.

8. Florida Keys and Texas Hurricane, 1919
(Unnamed) Category: 4 – Deaths: 287
The path of this particular unnamed hurricane was almost due west, first causing misery in the Florida Keys, then continuing across the Gulf of Mexico and smacking Corpus Christi, Texas. Many of the deaths from the storm were the result of several ships being sunk

7. Grand Isle, Louisiana, 1909
(Unnamed) Category: 3 – Wind gusts: 80 mph – Ocean surge: 15 ft – Deaths: 350

With a fifteen-foot storm surge, this hurricane caused the inundation of much of southern Louisiana, killing at least 350 people. Although its wind speed (80 mph) was less than that of many of the other hurricanes in the top ten, this storm proved that storm surge into a low-lying area can be more deadly than a more powerful hurricane striking an area with a higher elevation.

6. Miami, Pensacola, Florida, Mississippi, and
Alabama, 1926 (Unnamed) Category: 4 – Deaths: 372

In the early morning hours of September 18, 1926, this Category 4 hurricane hit Miami, crossed Florida to the northwest, and entered the Gulf of Mexico before it finally slammed into Alabama and Mississippi. In its wake lay 372 victims. Many of the dead died needlessly in the Miami area, thinking, as the eye of the hurricane passed overhead, that the storm was finished. Over 25,000 people were left homeless in the Miami area, and the storm quickly became known as the Great Miami Hurricane.

5. Florida Keys, 1935
Category: 5 – Deaths: 408

Striking the Florida Keys first, this unnamed storm (later dubbed the Labor Day Hurricane) continued north along Florida’s west coast past Tampa and eventual made a second landfall at Cedar Key, Florida. This storm’s particular impact will always be remembered for what happened on the rail line linking the Florida Keys to mainland Florida. A ten-car evacuation train had been sent to the Keys from Homestead, Florida, to rescue a large group of World War I veterans who were employed building a new road bridge in the Upper Keys. Before the train could reach the men, it was washed off the tracks. The veterans faced the full fury of the storm unprotected. Of the 408 people killed during the hurricane, more than half of them were veterans working on the road project.

4. Audrey, 1957
Category: 4 – Deaths: 419

Hurricane Audrey slammed into eastern Texas and western Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, causing over a billion dollars in damage and 419 fatalities. Tornadoes were spawned as a result of the storm, adding to the devastation caused by storm surge and the winds. Water from the storm surge extended an incredible 25 miles inland. Audrey hit quite early in the season for a hurricane, making landfall on June 26, 1957, and was the first named hurricane that year.

3. Katrina, 2005
Category: 3 – Deaths: 1,800

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Louisiana-Mississippi border, causing death and destruction on a historic scale. A Category 3 storm, Katrina’s rain and storm surge caused almost every levee in metropolitan New Orleans to fail. At least 1,800 people died. A study of the victims found that most had survived the height of the storm only to die in the flooding that followed the breaching of the levees. Federal, state, and local government
agencies were widely criticized for their slow response to the plight of the people of New Orleans.

2. Lake Okeechobee, Florida, 1928
Category: 4 – Deaths: 2,500-3,000

In 1928, the area around Lake Okeechobee supported mostly farmers who felt safe from any storm surge originating from the lake because of a series of man-made dikes. But the hurricane, now known as the Okeechobee Hurricane, made the dikes seem no stronger than paper. Killing hundreds as the storm roared first through the Caribbean, the hurricane then crossed over Puerto Rico, slammed into Florida near West Palm Beach, and headed toward Lake Okeechobee. Residents near the lake had been warned of the storm’s approach, but when it did not arrive at the time predicted, many thought the storm was over and returned to their homes from higher ground. When the hurricane hit later with the full force of its 140 mile-per-hour fury, the south-blowing wind created a storm surge that sent a wall of water barreling through the dikes at the south end of the lake. The people and their homes were swept away by the rampaging water, many dumped into the Everglades, never to be found.

1. Galveston, Texas 1900
Category: 4 – Deaths: 8,000-12,000

This was the big one in terms of casualties. It is estimated that between 8,000 and 12,000 people died, largely because of the 20-foot storm surge that took Galveston’s citizens by surprise on September 8, 1900. Late warnings were issued by the U.S. Weather Bureau, but many people stayed put, preferring to watch the rising surf. When the Category 4 storm made a direct hit on the barrier island Galveston, half the town’s homes were swept away, many with the occupants still inside. When the storm passed, bodies were found high in trees and in walls of debris that were three stories high. Many victims were simply never found, either having been washed out to sea or buried under tons of sand. Disposing of the bodies that were found proved to be a major and horrific undertaking. “Dead Gangs” were formed to collect the dead, which were burned, while the squeamish workers were plied with whiskey to keep them at their task. Approximately 700 bodies were loaded onto barges and deposited 18 miles out at sea, only to later wash up on Galveston’s beaches, as if to remind the living not to forget what happened.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Category Winds Storm Surge Expected Damage
1 74 to 95 mph 4 to 5 feet Minimal
2 96 to 110 mph 6 to 8 feet Moderate
3 111 to 130 mph 9 to 12 feet Extensive
4 131 to 155 mph 13 to 18 feet Extreme
5 Greater than 155 mph Greater than 18 feet Catastrophic

Learn more about hurricanes:

Hurricane Glossary
Learn the differences between an advisory, warning, and more with this list of the most frequently used hurricane terms and their definitions.

Hurricane Tips: How To Be Prepared!
Being prepared before and during a hurricane can mean the difference between life and death. Check out these essential tips and keep them in a handy place.

Hurricane Preparedness: Is Your Pet Safe?
Hurricane season is here and will peak on September 10th. Learn ways to help keep your pet safe in case of a weather disaster.

How are Hurricane Categories Determined?
This chart explains how hurricane categories are determined.

How Much Do You Know About Hurricanes?
They may be more deadly than you think. Read these hurricane facts.

How are Hurricanes Named?
Katrina, Wilma, Ernesto… Who determines hurricane names?

1 comment

1 Hurricane Issac | Mars Gone Mad { 01.13.15 at 1:59 pm }

[…] Katrina is the costliest storm in American history. Note that it wasn’t the deadliest. Reading what happened to the citizens of Lake Okeechobee FL and Galveston TX alarms me even […]

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