What was the worst hurricane of the decade?

Joe Mario Pedersen, Orlando Sentinel
·12 min read

Ten years of hurricanes went by like a breeze, with dozens of names that came and went without much care, but then there were names that won’t be forgotten.

It was a decade full of historical storms and milestones including two of the costliest hurricanes (2017′s Harvey and Maria), several of the most deadly (2012′s Sandy and 2017′s Harvey) and the most powerful hurricane to strike land recorded in modern history (2019′s Dorian).

In the last 10 years meteorologists recorded 158 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean, about 10 more storms than the previous decade, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

However, not all of those named storms matured into hurricanes; only 72 experienced enough tropical development to reach the maximum sustained wind strength of a Category 1 hurricane at 74 mph. That hurricane total is actually one less than the total from the previous decade (2000-2009), which had 73.

The number of hurricanes to hit Florida was also slightly down between 2010 and 2019 with only five hurricanes making landfall in the Sunshine State. Four hurricanes alone hit Florida in 2004, with a total of eight hitting the Sunshine State in that decade.

While totals show 13 hurricanes hitting Florida in the last 20 years, Florida went nearly 11 years without a hurricane making landfall, the time between 2005′s Hurricane Wilma and 2016′s Hurricane Hermine, so much of the state fell into a lull after enduring an busy first half of the 2000s.

But there’s more stories hurricane numbers can tell.

Total deaths directly caused by hurricanes in the last decade is recorded at about 1,300 deaths, but death totals from 2019 have not fully been calculated as of yet, and are expected to rise after damages and fatalities have been assessed in the wake of Category 5 Hurricane Dorian. That also doesn’t include up to 1,000 deaths in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The official death toll on that island from that hurricane remains 65.

Still those deaths are significantly lower than the previous decade.

Deaths recorded in the 2000 to 2009 era are difficult to report due to the uncertainty of which deaths may have been directly linked to hurricanes, specifically 2004′s Hurricane Jeanne, which killed about 3,000 people in the Caribbean and 2005′s Hurricane Stan which may have killed 2,000 people in Central America. NOAA numbers show a total of over 7,800 deaths associated with hurricanes between the years of 2000 and 2009.

And Florida death totals in the last decade were down to almost 30 from nearly 50 previously.

Although overall deaths are down, the cost of damage caused by Atlantic hurricanes increased largely in the last 10 years.

Hurricane damages exceeded $244 billion from 2000 to 2009. Damage cost totals increased to $410 billion from 2010 to 2018 with this year’s damage estimates not in official tallies as yet. That decade-over-decade increase was expected though as three of the costliest storms in history took place in the last eight years: Sandy, Harvey and Maria.

2010

Named storms: 20

Hurricanes: 12

The decade didn’t waste any time with its first named storm Category 2 Hurricane Alex in June. The storm developed in the Caribbean and traveled northwest maturing heavily in the Gulf of Mexico before making landfall in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

While Florida wasn’t struck by a hurricane in 2010, and wouldn’t see a hurricane again until 2016, it did weather Tropical Storm Bonnie, the first tropical interaction Florida received in the decade. It made landfall in Elliot Key and weakened into a tropical depression over Miami and Naples.

Category 4 Hurricane Danielle never came close to Florida, but the swells it generated are responsible for the first hurricane-related death of the decade in the United States - the drowning of a 47-year-old man off Satellite Beach.

2011

Named storms: 19

Hurricanes: 7

The first hurricane of the season didn’t form until Aug. 21 in the shape of Category 2 Irene. The storm whizzed by Florida and made landfall in Jacksonville, North Carolina as a Category 1. The storm caused widespread damage throughout the eastern U.S. and was directly responsible for 40 American deaths.

2012

Named storms: 20

Hurricanes: 12

The season wasn’t very remarkable for the hurricane-battle-hardened state of Florida which dealt with Tropical Storm Debby and brought some freshwater flooding to central and northern Florida, as well as Hurricane Gordon. The latter didn’t make landfall in Florida but did bring severe flooding over parts of South Florida and east Central Florida.

However, the storm that defined 2012 wasn’t a hurricane and its impact didn’t include Florida. On Oct. 22 Tropical Storm Sandy spiraled into formation and began spinning northbound. It briefly became a Category 3 hurricane while passing over Cuba and quickly weakened. But as it moved toward the northeastern United States it gained strength and then became extratropical after combining with a cold mass of air stripping it of its hurricane status.

Sandy made landfall as an “extratropical” system on Oct. 29 in Brigatine, New Jersey with maximum sustained winds of 98 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Storm surge was measured in New York at 12.65 feet above normal tide levels on the western end of Long Island Sound. The highest observed water mark on the streets of New York measured in at just below 8 feet.

In an extraordinarily rare phenomenon, Sandy brought heavy snowfall to the southeastern states as well.

Sandy was deadliest storm of the year with it being directly responsible for the deaths of 147 people, and leaving behind $70 billion worth of damages.

2013

Named storms: 13

Hurricanes: 2

It was the season with the lowest hurricane total of the decade. Still Florida experienced some activity when Tropical Storm Andrea made landfall in the northwestern coast of the state.

The first of two hurricanes spawned in the Atlantic on Sept. 11 as Humberto. The Category 1 storm fizzled out by Sept. 18 in the middle Atlantic without making landfall.

The second was Category 1 Ingrid who made landfall as a tropical storm in Tamaulipas, Mexico.

2014

Named storms: 8

Hurricanes: 6

The 2014 season was below average in the development of named storms but most of its tropical activity did attain hurricane status.

The first hurricane was Category 2 Arthur, which formed in July off the east coast of Florida and traveled north briefly making landfall in North Carolina.

Arthur caused “modest damage,” but did mark a record as the most powerful hurricane to make landfall in the United States without causing any deaths

Following it, Category 1 Hurricane Bertha caused two American deaths due to rip currents: a man off the coast of North Carolina and a woman in New Jersey waters.

Hurricane Gonzalo was the strongest storm of the year at a Category 5 and didn’t make landfall. However the storm is directly responsible for three deaths in the Leeward Islands. After the storm dissipated, its remnants caused two additional deaths and four injuries in Great Britain.

2015

Named storms: 11

Hurricanes: 4

It was another below average hurricane season characterized by a small amount of tropical development in the Atlantic. The first hurricane of the year, Category 3 Hurricane Danny, didn’t form until halfway through August and had no impact on any landmass.

The worst storm of the year was Category 4 Joaquin, which is directly responsible for 34 deaths in the Bahamas and Haiti. Nearly all the deaths resulted from the U.S. flagged cargo ship El Faro. The ship left from Jacksonville on Sept. 29 and got caught in Joaquin’s winds east of the Bahamas. The ship was declared lost on Oct. 4, according to NOAA. The crew was made up of 28 Americans and five Polish nationals, all presumed dead. The wreckage of El Faro was found Oct. 31 15,000 feet below the ocean surface.

2016

Named storms: 15

Hurricanes: 7

The season ticked up from 2014 and 2015′s lack luster tropical production, and with the increased activity came Florida’s first hurricane since 2005′s Wilma. Category 1 Hurricane Hermine made landfall on Florida’s big bend in St. Marks on Sept. 2 and is directly responsible for the death of 56-year-old John Mayes, a homeless man in Ocala, according to a report by the Ocala Star Banner.

Hermine produced five tornadoes, one of which was in Winter Garden and another in Lady Lake. Hermine was responsible for $550 million worth of damage.

Florida would encounter another storm in 2016 when Category 5 Hurricane Matthew formed on Sept. 29. Matthew is directly responsible for nearly 600 deaths, most of which were Haitian where the storm caused the most damage - $1.9 billion worth.

Two deaths were in Florida, including 63-year-old Susan Mathes of DeLand who was outside during the storm feeding her animals consisting of goats, chickens, cats and dogs, according to a 2016 Orlando Sentinel article. Mathes died when a tree fell on her.

Another woman from Putnam County was killed when a tree fell on her camping trailer.

Volusia County was the site of 69 destroyed homes and where 467 additional homes received major damages. Flood damages occurred in Volusia and Duval counties, the latter saw parts of the Jacksonville Beach Pier get washed away.

Ultimately, Matthew caused $10 billion in damages, making it the 10th costliest hurricane to affect the United States at the time.

2017

Named storms: 18

Hurricanes: 10

As if to make up for the lack of storms experienced during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, 2017 was above average in observed storms of the decade.

Not only that, but the United States was hit by three major hurricanes all bringing vast amounts of destruction to major metropolitan areas, two of which were the second and third costliest storms in American history, according to the NOAA.

First there was Category 4 Hurricane Harvey which directly killed 68 people. It was the deadliest hurricane since Sandy and the second deadliest tropical system to hit Texas since 1919, according to the NOAA. Harvey caused $125 billion in damages, making it the second costliest hurricane in modern U.S. history, according to the NOAA with 2005′s Hurricane Katrina being the costliest.

Next, there was Hurricane Irma in September which brought vast damages to the Caribbean as a Category 5, and to Florida as a Category 3. Irma was directly responsible for 47 deaths, 10 of which were in the United States. Seven deaths occurred in Florida.

About 6 million people evacuated the coasts in preparation for the storm. Most damage occurred in the Florida Keys, but it was Jacksonville that received record breaking flooding up to 5 feet in locations throughout the city, according to the NOAA.

Finally, there was Hurricane Maria which made landfall on the island of Dominica as a Category 5 storm and Puerto Rico as a Category 4.

Maria is the third costliest storm in American history causing $90 billion worth of damages. Officially, it’s responsible for almost 100 deaths, 65 of which died in Puerto Rico, although media reports reveal the storm’s death toll in Puerto Rico may be closer to 1,000, but it is unclear which of these deaths are linked directly to Maria.

Between 50,000 to 70,000 families were estimated to have resettled in Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, according to a 2017 Orlando Sentinel story.

2018

Named storms: 16

Hurricanes: 8

Floridians aren’t likely to forget about the 2018 hurricane season as many panhandle residents are still dealing with the ramifications of Category 5 Hurricane Michael.

Michael made landfall on Oct. 10 near Tyndall Air Force Base, 15 miles north of Mexico Beach. It left the area devastated with many comparing the wake of destruction to that of a bomb site.

Bay County suffered huge devastation with more than 45,000 structures damaged and more than 1,500 buildings destroyed including severe damage to two hospitals, the NHC said.

Michael caused $25 billion worth of damage. It was directly responsible for 16 deaths and for 43 indirect deaths, all in Florida.

Recovery is still ongoing for many panhandle communities. Mexico Beach was able to get its sewer lines running 10 months after Michael arrived. Many residents are still rebuilding, and about 11 percent of insurance claims remain open.

Months earlier, America’s southeastern coast endured Category. 4 Hurricane Florence. A record amount of rain was set that for both North Carolina, 35 inches, and South Carolina, 26 inches, during the storm.

Florence was directly responsible for 22 deaths and caused $24 billion worth of damage.

2019

Named storms: 18

Hurricanes: 6

If 2019 will be remembered for one storm it’ll be the slow moving Category 5 Dorian.

The final hurricane season of the decade produced one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever observed.

The storm’s strength was matched only by the strongest recorded hurricane to strike land in Atlantic history; the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane which had a maximum sustained wind speed of 185 mph.

Dorian arrived at the Abaco Islands of the Bahamas on Sept. 1 with its powerful winds, waves and rainfall.

But the high pressure steering Dorian westward collapsed which caused the Category 5 storm to stall over the island of Grand Bahama for 18 hours, according to NASA data.

Details about Dorian’s damages are still being calculated but the death toll is at least 70 people and damages have amounted to $3.4 billion worth.

The season’s final hurricane closed the decade with yet another historical storm. Category 1 Hurricane Pablo formed Oct. 27 and became the farthest east an Atlantic named storm has ever become a hurricane on record, according to Colorado State University professor Philip Klotzbach.

Pablo did not make landfall, and marked the end of a busy year and busy decade for hurricanes.

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