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What Are the Worst U.S. Cities for Hurricane Damage?

July 17, 2020

An average-sized hurricane has the energy equivalent of 10,000 nuclear bombs. 

As these storms come barreling through major U.S. cities, it's no wonder we see the devastation that's left behind after the high winds, massive rainfall, and storm surge. Lives are lost. Homes are damaged or destroyed. And the effects of a major hurricane can last for years. In the extreme case of Hurricane Katrina, when 85 percent of New Orleans was underwater, recovery took more than 14 years. 

Let's take a look at three different hurricane rankings to identify the worst U.S. cities for hurricane damage. 

Which Cities Are Hit By Hurricanes the Most Often?

Some cities are hit by hurricanes significantly more often than others. Year after year, these vulnerable locations can take a beating during hurricane season. 

An analysis by Hurricane City identified the most frequently hit cities by looking at historical storm data from 1871 to today. Keep in mind that the resulting figures are a statistical average over time. During a bad season, a metro area could have a hurricane hitting several times in one year. Then it could be missed by the major storms for several years in a row. 

The distribution of storms across the east coast is not even, and the state of Florida, along with North Carolina, accounts for the majority of the top cities. The infrastructure, home foundations, and local response systems in these cities must be strong enough to withstand repeated storm recovery.

According to the data, the worst place in the country is Cape Hatteras on North Carolina's Outer Banks. Since 1871, the city has been affected 108 times by a hurricane or tropical storm. That means that, on average, a storm hits the coastal town once every 1.33 years. 

US cities most frequently hit by hurricanes and cities most vulnerable to storm surges

10 U.S. Cities that Are Most Frequently Hit by Hurricanes (1871-2019)

  1. Cape Hatteras, NC — 7.5 hurricanes per decade
  2. Morehead City, NC — 6.6 hurricanes per decade
  3. Wilmington, NC — 6.0 hurricanes per decade
  4. Savannah, GA — 5.3 hurricanes per decade
  5. Myrtle Beach, SC — 5.1 hurricanes per decade
  6. Miami, FL — 5.1 hurricanes per decade
  7. Cape Canaveral, FL — 5.1 hurricanes per decade
  8. Fernandina Beach, FL — 5.1 hurricanes per decade
  9. Saint Augustine, FL — 4.9 hurricanes per decade
  10. Palm Beach, FL — 4.9 hurricanes per decade

Which Cities Could Be Most Damaged by a Hurricane?

Now let's consider another metric for identifying the worst cities hurricane damage. Rather than considering the cities that are hit the most often, an analysis of hurricane storm surge can reveal geographic vulnerability to hurricanes.

Real estate analysis firm CoreLogic says, "Throughout history, damage from storm surge and inland flooding has shown it can far exceed damage from wind." 

The property damage is not only a factor of how many properties can become submerged, but it also has to do with the force of the water. Under the hydraulic impact of a storm surge wave, each cubic yard of sea water weighs nearly one ton. That's the equivalent of a live oak tree crashing into your home's foundation. 

A low-category hurricane may only have a storm surge that affects properties close to the coast or at the lowest elevations. However, a Category 5 storm surge can affect even low-risk homes that tend to be further inland and at higher elevations.

For example, lower Manhattan had a storm surge of nearly 14 feet during Hurricane Sandy. There was massive flooding throughout the metropolitan area, including submerging subways and tunnels.

Another notable example of storm surge vulnerability is Virginia Beach. While many cities on the Atlantic coast deal with only the lateral effects of a storm surge, the Chesapeake Bay location has a compounding effect. As waters rush into the Bay, the narrowing waterway squeezes the water to create taller and faster-moving waves. 

Here are the major cities that have the most single-family homes at risk to a Category 5 hurricane and their potential reconstruction cost value.

10 U.S. Cities That Are the Most Vulnerable to Storm Surge

  1. Miami, FL — 791,775 properties at risk ($158 billion)
  2. New York, NY — 731,137 properties at risk ($283 billion)
  3. Tampa, FL — 465,644 properties at risk ($84 billion)
  4. New Orleans, LA — 399,403 properties at risk ($101 billion)
  5. Virginia Beach, VA — 391,365 properties at risk ($95 billion)
  6. Fort Myers, FL — 329,479 properties at risk ($68 billion)
  7. Houston, TX — 294,188 properties at risk ($64 billion)
  8. Bradenton, FL — 262,745 properties at risk ($54 billion)
  9. Naples, FL — 187,205 properties at risk ($42 billion)
  10. Jacksonville, FL — 176,509 properties at risk ($41 billion)

Which Hurricanes Have Caused the Most Damage? 

According to data from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information and the National Hurricane Center, most of the most devastating hurricanes have occurred in the past 20 years. 

The cumulative impact of the top 10 worst hurricanes has caused more than $600 billion in damage. The storm that tops the list is Hurricane Katrina, which had a maximum storm surge of more than 20 feet in the Gulf Coast and the devastating levee failure in New Orleans. 

Keep in mind that the category of a storm doesn't always clearly predict its capacity for damage. Many of the storms on this list made landfall in the United States as a Category 4 storm or lower. 

top 10 most damaging hurricanes in US

10 Hurricanes that Caused the Most Damage

  1. Hurricane Katrina - 2005 ($170 billion)
  2. Hurricane Harvey - 2017 ($131 billion)
  3. Hurricane Maria - 2017 ($95 billion)
  4. Hurricane Sandy - 2012 ($74 billion)
  5. Hurricane Irma - 2017 ($53 billion)
  6. Hurricane Andrew - 1992 ($51 billion)
  7. Hurricane Ike - 2008 ($37 billion)
  8. Hurricane Ivan - 2004 ($29 billion)
  9. Hurricane Wilma - 2005 ($26 billion)
  10. Hurricane Michael - 2018 ($26 billion)

As the Atlantic hurricane season heads toward its peak in August and September, 59 percent of homeowners have little to no hurricane preparation. Rather than waiting until after a hurricane causes massive damage, mitigation steps like sump pumps or flood vents can provide both structural fortification and peace of mind.

Find out how Groundworks experts are helping homeowners protect their properties from hurricanes and flooding.