Hurricanes are the most severe category of tropical cyclone. A typical hurricane grows to a massive 300 miles wide causing destructive winds, heavy rains, storm surges, and tornadoes that cover a large area. The worst hurricanes in history have taken many lives and caused billions of dollars in property damage.
Hundreds of hurricanes have hit the United States Coast since the 1700's, but record keeping began to take shape starting with the 1900 Galveston Hurricane. It was the deadliest in United States history killing between 8,000 and 12,000 people when it hit the Texas coast as a category 4 on September 8, 1900. A storm surge of 8 to 15 feet covered Galveston Island and the surrounding coastal area with property damage estimated at $30 million.
-The San Felipe-Okeechobee Hurricane of 1928 made landfall near Palm Beach, Florida, on September 16. The storm destroyed measurement equipment so wind speeds were not known at landfall, but a minimum pressure of 27.43 was recorded indicating a high category 3 or 4. This hurricane caused a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet as it moved over Lake Okeechobee killing 1836 people with estimates as high as 3,000 killed.
-Camille made landfall August 17, 1969, near the Mississippi river as a category 5 with sustained winds of 190-200 mph. Camille flattened most of the Mississippi coast with 24 foot storm surges, killing 259 and causing $1.42 billion in property damage.
-Andrew made first landfall as a category in the Bahamas killing 3 and leaving $250 million dollars in damage. Andrew continued on to make landfall at Homestead, Florida, August, 24, 1992, still a category 4 with a 17 foot storm surge causing $25.5 billion in damage. From Homestead, Andrew entered the Gulf of Mexico and continued to the Louisiana coast making landfall as a category 3 with 8 foot storm surge causing $1 million in damage. Andrew also produced a killer tornado over southeastern Louisiana.
-Katrina made 1st landfall near Buras, Louisiana, then made a second landfall near the mouth of the Pearl River at the Louisiana/Mississippi border as a category 3. Katrinas' storm surge was a whopping 25 to 28 foot surge that over-topped and broke levees, flooding New Orleans. Katrina caused catastrophic damage killing at least 1800 people and causing $81 billion in damages. This storm also produced 43 tornadoes as it moved inland with one having occurred in the Florida keys as it entered the Gulf. On August 29-30, 20 tornadoes reported in Georgia, 11 in Alabama and 11 in Mississippi.
The United States has had its fair share of devastating hurricanes but some of the worst in terms of loss of life and property have occurred in Southeastern Asia and India where hurricanes are called cyclones. The deadliest hurricane on record was the category 3 Bhola cyclone which hit East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, on November 12, 1970, killing at least 500,000 with estimates reaching a death toll of 1 million.
-On May 3, 2008, Myanmar (formerly Burma) was hit by a category 4. Ninety-five percent of all houses and other buildings in 7 townships were destroyed leaving 1.5 million homeless. The storm surge reached 25 miles inland because of the low lying delta killing 130,000 with official figures estimating tens of thousands still missing.
As technology grows, the ability to predict and track these deadly storms increases. In August and September of 2010, NASA will lead an aircraft campaign designed to provide the never before seen steps of a hurricane from birth through intensification. The GRIP, or Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes, project will send an unmanned drone for the first time over tropical systems for up to 20 hours at a time enabling NASA to record each step of the intensification process and observe critical moments during this process. This data could be used to improve the hurricane prediction models and better predict hurricane tracks to help save lives.