At times, 2011 has felt like a parade of natural disasters: Earthquakes and tornadoes and floods, oh my! But wait, there are more coming. Hurricane season has just begun.
The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June to November, is predicted to to be heavy, and it comes on the heels of a spring that brought the deadliest and strongest tornadoes on record in the United States. With the massive F5 that leveled a large swath of Joplin, Mo., on May 22 and took more than 135 lives, as well as the June twisters that caused a total of 322 deaths, the nation's weather-related damage for 2011 has already topped $3 billion from tornadoes alone.
Hurricanes tend to be more expensive, and in the past few years, we've been lucky to have avoided the worst storms.
The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration predicts about 18 named tropical storms will form this year, with six to 10 of them expected to reach hurricane status. Researchers at Colorado State University offer a complimentary analysis, suggesting that 2011 will see about 16 named storms, with five developing into major hurricanes. These numbers stand menacingly higher than the average North Atlantic season of 11 named storms and two hurricanes in the upper strength categories.
Even though a Category 4 or 5 hurricane can cause serious damage, it's not always the strongest hurricanes that leave the most devastation in their wake. In fact, out of the top 10 most expensive hurricanes on record, two were Category 2 and one, Agnes in 1972, was a Category 1. Hurricane Katrina was just a Category 3, and the areas it touched are still feeling the effects of its estimated $81 billion in property damage today. It was also one of the most lethal, with 1,836 deaths caused by the storm and the floods and chaos that followed.
The 11 Costliest Hurricanes in U.S. History
The 10 Most Expensive Hurricanes in U.S. History
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy is a good reminder that the strength of a storm is less important than where it makes landfall. Despite its enormous size, it was classified as only a Category 2 storm at its peak, and by the time it made landfall in the Northeast, it had been reclassified as a "post-tropical storm" (a designation that will force insurers to pay more in claims than they would have for a storm classified as a hurricane).
Hurricane or not, though, Sandy's landfall near New York City and other major population centers in the region immediately vaulted it onto the list of the most expensive storms in the nation's history. While the first wave of cleanup and recovery continues throughout the region, there's little doubt that the massive flooding and wind damage associated with Sandy will ultimately cost tens of billions of dollars, to say nothing of the human toll.
Click through our gallery to find out how Sandy stacks up to other devastating Atlantic storms.
* - Costs adjusted to 2010 dollars on basis of U.S. Dept. of Commerce Implicit Price Deflator for Construction. The storms from 2011 and later are not adjusted. The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) rates Hurricane Katrina's damage at $133.8 billion 2007 dollars.
Landfall Category: 1
U.S. Damage: 11.7 Billion
Date of storm: June 18-23, 1972
U.S. areas affected: Florida(Panhandle), Georgia, Carolinas, Northeastern U.S.
This June 23, 1972, photo shows people in Harrisburg, Pa., being rescued by boat from their homes after Hurricane Agnes caused the Susquehanna River to overflow its banks, leading to heavy flooding.
U.S. areas affected: Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington DC
Hurricane Irene crippled 10 states during its slow climb up the Eastern Seaboard, causing massive flooding and power outages. The brutal storm made landfall in North Carolina and traveled to Maine.
Billy Stinson (C), his wife Sandra Stinson and daughter Erin Stinson (R) comfort each other as they sit on the steps where their cottage once stood before it was destroyed by Hurricane Irene on Aug. 28, 2011 in Nags Head, N.C.
The cottage, built in 1903 was one of the first vacation cottages built on Roanoke Sound in Nags Head. Stinson had owned the home, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, since 1963. "We were pretending, just for a moment, that the cottage was still behind us and we were just sitting there watching the sunset," said Erin afterward.
After striking Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, Wilma turned northeast, strengthened over the Gulf or Mexico, and made landfall near Cape Romano, Fla., on Oct. 24 as a Category 3 hurricane. The eye crossed the Florida Peninsula in less than five hours, and it moved into the Atlantic just north of Palm Beach as a still forceful Category 2 hurricane.
Pictured: A public phone is surrounded by flood waters near a block of hotels as Hurricane Wilma lashes Cancun, Mexico, on Oct. 21, 2005.
U.S. Damage:Early estimates indicate damage and economic losses as high as $50 billion
Date of Storm: October 29-31, 2012
U.S. Areas Affected: Connecticut, D.C., Delaware, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Vermont, and Virginia.
Pictured: NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29: Rising water, caused by Hurricane Sandy, rushes into a subterranian parking garage on October 29, 2012, in the Financial District of New York, United States. Hurricane Sandy, which threatens 50 million people in the eastern third of the U.S., is expected to bring days of rain, high winds and possibly heavy snow. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the closure of all New York City will bus, subway and commuter rail service as of Sunday evening.
Landfall Category: 3
U.S. Damage: $105.8 Billion
Date of storm: Aug. 25-30, 2005
U.S. areas affected: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee
Katrina unleashed torrential rains and a potent storm surge that led to disastrous flooding that left about 1,600 people dead, destroyed thousands of homes and marred the presidency of George W. Bush, whose administration was severely criticized for its handling of the crisis.
Pictured: President Bush (center) tours the devastation in New Orleans with Mayor Ray Nagin (right), Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Vice Adm. Thad Allen.