- Carlos Barria/Reuters
Hurricane Irma (downgraded to post-tropical cyclone Tuesday) continues to hit Georgia, Alabama, and the Carolinas. Now, residents across the Caribbean and Florida are starting to assess the devastation from the storm.
One of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded, Irma led to the deaths of at least 41 people. That number is expected to rise.
Hurricanes can be so deadly because they often bring uncontrollable winds and flooding. Irma, for instance, was a Category 5 storm – with sustained winds of 185 mph for 37 hours at its peak – when it slammed into several Caribbean islands. At one point, wind gusts reached 216 mph, fast enough to flip over trains, rip roofs off houses, shatter windows, and suck the ocean away from shorelines.
With the invention of the electric telegraph (which made weather forecasting possible), the US National Weather Service started tracking global weather data in the mid-19th century, and established a formal hurricane warning system in 1889.
Here’s a look at some of the deadliest storms around the world in the past century.
Note: The following climate disasters include tropical cyclones, typhoons, and hurricanes, since meteorological classifications differ depending on the location and strength. (A storm that might be classified as a “Category 1 hurricane” in the US might be called a “typhoon” in China.)
The death toll counts are also estimations. For many large-scale disasters, it’s nearly impossible to know exactly how many remain uncounted or unidentified. There’s also still no widespread agreement on how to count victims if storm-related deaths occur months or years after it has passed.
Hurricane Pauline (1997) — Up to 500 people
In 1997, a tropical wave that moved off the African coast into the tropical Atlantic ocean spawned Hurricane Pauline.
Between 230 and 500 fatalities were confirmed, making it one of the deadliest Pacific hurricanes to make landfall in Mexico.
Kavali Cyclone (1989) — 902 people
The Kavali Cyclone (also known as Typhoon Gay) was a small but powerful tropical storm that caused more than 900 fatalities near the Gulf of Thailand in November 1989.
It made landfall with sustained winds of 115 mph, destroying thousands of homes. Approximately 134 people went missing as well.
Andhra Pradesh cyclone (1990) — 967 people
- Wikipedia Commons
At the time, the 1990 Andhra Pradesh cyclone was the worst weather disaster to affect Southern India in over a decade.
Severe flooding contributed to the deaths of nearly 1,000 people, while some 2.6 million were affected in other ways, including injuries, power outages, lack of access to food or water, or home damage.
Hurricane Liza (1976) — 1,263 people
- John Malmin / Los Angeles Times
Hurricane Liza is considered the deadliest weather disaster in the history of Baja California Sur, Mexico. At its peak, it was a Category 4 storm.
The eighth hurricane of the 1976 Pacific hurricane season, Liza brought severe flooding. It killed approximately 1,263 people, and left 20,000 more homeless.
Hurricane Paul (1982) — 1,696 people
- Wikipedia Commons
It ravaged northern Mexico with wind speeds up to 150 mph.
The 1959 ‘Mexico’ hurricane — 1,800 people
- Collma Noticias
A category 4 hurricane at landfall with winds estimated at 140 mph, the 1959 “Mexico” hurricane was one of the deadliest East Pacific hurricanes in recorded history.
The hurricane dumped heavy rains along its path, which contributed to huge mudslide that claimed approximately 800 victims. Around 1,800 people died in total from the storm.
Hurricane Katrina (2005) — At least 1,833 people
- Getty Images
One of the costliest weather disasters to happen in the US, Hurricane Katrina devastated areas near the Gulf of Mexico, most notably Haiti and New Orleans, in 2005.
A Category 5 storm at its peak, Katrina was responsible for at least 1,833 deaths, the majority caused by wind, storm surge, and the failure of levees.
Typhoon Haiyan (2013) — 6,329 people
Typhoon Haiyan tore across central Philippines, and destroyed more than a million homes in the country’s low-lying coastal farming and fishing communities in 2013.
The storm killed over 6,000 people.
The Odisha Cyclone (1999) — At least 10,000 people
- India TV
This massive cyclone swept through the eastern Indian state of Odisha, killing at least 10,000 people and leaving thousands more homeless in 1999.
At the time, it was the strongest recorded tropical cyclone in the North Indian Ocean. The storm triggered a giant tidal wave, which wiped out entire villages. Many died from starvation and water-borne diseases in the weeks after the cyclone, if rescue workers did not reach them quickly enough.
Hurricane Mitch (1998) — approximately 11,374 people
Hurricane Mitch – hitting Florida, Honduras, Nicaragua, Central America, and the Yucatán Peninsula – was one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes on record.
In Honduras, the slow-moving hurricane dumped up to 4 inches of rain per hour for two days, causing mudslides and mass flooding. Over 11,000 people died from the disaster, and thousands more went missing.
Severe Cyclonic Storm Three (1963) — 11,520 people
- Wikipedia Commons
Called “Severe Cyclonic Storm Three,” this weather disaster was one of 17 storms in the 1963 North Indian Ocean cyclone season.
One of the strongest cyclones ever recorded in the Northern Indian Ocean, it killed approximately 11,520 people in Pakistan.
Andhra Pradesh cyclone (1977) — At least 14,204 people
The 1977 Andhra Pradesh cyclone is considered India’s first super cyclonic storm – meaning winds exceeded 138 mph. The cyclone hit a southeast state in the country.
Heavy storm surges and winds (up to 155 mph in some areas) contributed to the deaths of at least 14,204 people.
Cyclone Nargis (2008) — 138,366 people
One of the deadliest tropical cyclones on record, Cyclone Nargis hit India, Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Laos, Yangon, and the Ayeyarwady Region in 2008.
Packing winds upward of 120 miles an hour, the storm triggered extreme flooding that contributed to the death of over 138,000 people.
The 1991 Bangladesh cyclone — 138,866 people
- Wikipedia Commons
In late August 1991, a strong cyclone slammed into Bangladesh, killing more than 135,000 people and causing more than $1.5 billion in damage.
Up to 150 mph winds led to a 20-foot surge of floodwater across the region, completely overwhelming some islands.
Typhoon Nina (1975) — 229,000 people
Typhoon Nina brought severe flooding to the Philippines, causing the Banqiao Dam and a series of smaller nearby dams to collapse in 1975.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that 229,000 people died in the disaster.
Bhola Cyclone (1970) — Up to 500,000 people
The Bhola Cyclone was a tropical storm that struck East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) and India’s West Bengal in 1970. It reached its peak with winds of 115 mph.
Between 300,000 and 500,000 people, including approximately 100,000 fishermen, died in the aftermath of the cyclone. Most deaths were attributed to a large storm surge that overwhelmed the islands and tidal flats, wiped out villages, and destroyed crops near the Bay of Bengal.