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10 Hurricane Facts You Might Not Know: The Deadliest, the Costliest, the Strongest and More

Satellite photo of Hurricane Isaac in 2012
Handout, Getty

If you have access to a television, newspaper or view of the Atlantic coastline, hurricanes are nothing new to you. And while the giant storms have enormous effects on the environment and people’s lives, most of us only have a basic familiarity with them. They start out as small weather events in the ocean called depressions and then grow as wind speeds increase, first becoming tropical storms and finally turning into hurricanes.

But there’s much more to know than just that.

A hurricane is a storm with wind speeds over 160 miles an hour, powerful enough to release more than 2.4 trillion gallons of rain a day. In the only other oceanic regions with water warm enough to sustain a hurricane, such as the northern Indian Ocean and the western Pacific, they are known as cyclones and typhoons, respectively. The five categories of hurricanes are based on the Saffir-Simpson scale according their wind speeds.

Here are 10 random things about hurricanes you may not have heard during the average weather report:

Extreme Energy

Satellite photo of Hurricane Hugo in 1989
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

Every second, a large hurricane releases energy equivalent to that of 10 atomic bombs. In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the world’s nuclear weapons combined.

Deadly Storm Surge

Satellite photo of Hurricane Rita in 2005
Handout, Getty

Most of the time, a hurricane’s storm surge is what causes the most destruction. Ninety percent of all hurricane deaths result from storm surges. When a hurricane nears or makes landfall, it can have a storm surge 20 feet high and that extends almost 100 miles. This can go on for quite some time and is referred to as a hurricane’s remnants.

The Only Storms With Names

Satellite photo of Hurricane Floyd in 1999
NOAA, Getty

Hurricanes are the only weather disasters that get their own names. Originally, the names helped keep track of the storms when there were multiple ones in the ocean simultaneously at the peak of the season. Until 1979, storms received only female names, but that year Hurricane Bob became the first male (-named) hurricane.

Dozens of Names Have Been Retired

Satellite photo Hurricane Charley in 2004
Getty Images

In all, 76 hurricane names have been retired, which happens after a particularly devastating storm. In 1954 Carol and Hazel became the first retirees. The most recently retired name was Irene, in 2011. The year with the most retired storm names is 2005, the year of Katrina and her sisters Rita and Wilma. Since 1954, only 17 years passed without any retired names.

Stormiest Season

Satellite photo of Hurricane Wilma in 2005
Handout, Getty

2005 is the season with the most recorded storms. The year of Katrina saw 28 hurricanes, leading to usage of the Greek alphabet for the first time to name the final storms that year, as they had made it through all 26 letters of the English alphabet.

Costliest and Deadliest Hurricanes

Satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina in 2005
Handout, Getty

Of the 281 hurricanes to make landfall in the U.S. since 1851, Katrina was the costliest. It was a Category 5 when it made landfall and did an estimated $91 billion in damage. It was not, however, the deadliest. That record belongs to the storm that hit Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900. Approximately 8,000 people lost their lives in the Category 4 storm that sent 15-foot waves crashing over the island along with winds at speeds of 130 miles an hour.

Most Intense Hurricanes in U.S. History

Satellite photo of Hurricane Andrew in 1992
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

The top five most intense hurricanes in American history, based on the atmospheric pressure near the center of the storm at the time of its landfall, are:

  1. the Labor Day hurricane in 1935
  2. Hurricane Camille in 1969
  3. Hurricane Katrina in 2005
  4. Hurricane Andrew in 1992
  5. the Indianola, Texas, hurricane in 1886

First Hurricane to Affect Americans

Satellite photo of Hurricane Anita in 1977
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce

The first hurricane to hit the American Colonies made landfall on August 25 in 1635 and was known as the Great Colonial Hurricane. It is thought to have been equivalent to a Category 3 storm and killed 46 people.

Origin of the Word

Satellite photo of Hurricane Irene in 2011
Handout, Getty

The word “hurricane” is derived from the Taino Native American word “hurucane,” which means “evil spirit of the wind.” Although if you’re in Australia, you call them “willy-willies.”

Accuracy of Intensity Ratings

Satellite photo of Hurricane Ivan in 2004
Getty Images

On average, hurricane-intensity forecasts have a margin of error of one Category on the Saffir-Simpson scale within the 24- to 48-hour range. This means that forecasters could refer to a hurricane as being a Category 3, when it has actually already reached Category 4. Hurricanes increase in intensity very quickly, and by the time data is recorded, interpreted and shared, a storm may have already gained intensity.

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