29 October 2012

Top 10 Damaging Hurricanes Within 50 Miles of Sandy's Landfall

From the ICAT Damage Estimator, here is a table showing the damage from the top 10 historical storms which had a track that passed within the NHC forecast "cone" of Hurricane Sandy's current projected track.

New England Sep 21,1938 8  $  46,840,000,000
Diane Aug 19,1955 12  $  24,110,000,000
Carol Aug 31,1954 17  $  19,290,000,000
Agnes Jun 22,1972 18  $  19,010,000,000
Storm 7 in 1944 Sep 14,1944 31  $  10,600,000,000
Bob Aug 19,1991 66  $    3,620,000,000
Edna Sep 11,1954 67  $    3,230,000,000
Gloria Sep 27,1985 76  $    2,530,000,000
Donna Sep 14,1960 117  $        850,000,000

Some notes and caveats:

1. The estimates include hurricane damage as defined by NOAA. Most importantly that does not include inland flood damage that may occur when a storm moves inland (that damage is recorded under flood damage). Several of these storms would have much higher damage if inland flood damage were to be included.

2. So when comparing damage estimates that you may see for Sandy to those here, to compare apples to apples, a rough method will be to take estimated insured losses and multiply by two.

3. These data are based on Pielke et al. 2008, updated by ICAT.

4. As you can see in the map at the top of this post, none of the historical storm tracks make for good analogues for Sandy. All of the top 10 were category 3s at landfall except Bob (2), Agnes (1) and Diane (TS). And all were in Aug or Sept except Agnes (June).

5. Large, damaging storms are not unprecedented in the second half of October, with Storm 11 (1944, ~$54 billion), Wilma (2005, $26 billion) and Hazel (1954, $24 billion).


  1. AS Roger has pointed out sever storms have been occuring since the time the earth began.
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  2. On point 5, where did those strike? Some, not Eli to be sure, might think it was much further south. Just sayin'

  3. Eli,

    Some, who actually check their facts, might realize that Hazel did MAJOR damage to the Northeast and Canada AFTER traversing 800 hundred miles of land.

    Of course some savants (not Eli I'm sure) can be counted on to somehow claim that climate change led to a category 1 hurricane staying out to sea thus being "different" from a cat 4 that maintained the equivalent of category 1 strength on land all the way up to Toronto after striking "further south".

    Although I'm sure, based on past history, next year's peer-reviewed hurricane science will use this year's hurricane season (and headlines) to say something important about climate change and hurricanes.

    Just sayin'

  4. Although I understand the rhetorical power of these kinds of comparisons, I fail to understand their value analytically.

    Just as it would be fairly meaningless to make comparisons of the costs of storm damages w/o controlling for inflation, so it is pointless to make these comparisons w/o controlling for infrastructure changes - whether they be increases in property exposed to risks or increases in infrastructure built to protect against damages.

    These numbers are basically meaningless w/o that type of control for related variables. Even more direct comparisons such as surge levels and flood levels are not informative w/o that type of control of data.

  5. You really cannot compare storms this way. Increases in population and consequent building makes these comparisons not useful. Also, nowadays there is plenty of warning before the storm, so that preparations can be made. Not so in past storms. In those days, everyone was completely unprepared for hurricanes. There was no way to predict it or its intensity. I was in high-school, in Rhode Island, during the 1938 New England hurricane. The Providence River runs right through downtown Providence. It empties into Narragansett Bay, except that in the 1938 event Narragansett Bay entered into it. The high-water mark in downtown Providence was twenty feet. Everything was blacked out of course. The National Guard mounted an anti-aircraft search- light on a hill above the city that shined down the main street, to help discourage looting.
    On Long Island a man had just bought a barometer from Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City. When he got home and began to install it, he saw that the bottom had gone south. Thinking that there was something wrong with the barometer he got into his car to go back to Abercrombie and get his money back and then the hurricane hit.
    In 1906 a hurricane hit Galveston, TX, that caused 6000 dead. Imagine if a hurricane of that magnitude should hit today.

  6. Diane was a particularly different storm, since Diane actually made landfall in NC, and its "landfall" near this storm was actually it exiting after having turned to the northeast.