Tropical Storm Barry hit Louisiana hard and is expected to bring high winds and nearly a foot of rain in some places. The storm is moving slowly which will make these matters worse in some cases. However, its destructive force is nowhere near the largest and most dangerous hurricanes some of which did their damage nearly a century ago. The most damaging hurricane in American history actually happened in 1935.
The “Labor Day Storm” in 1935 had winds measured at an extraordinary 160 miles per hour. It hit the Andros Island and the Florida Keys in September. According to Weather Underground, “The strongest landfalling hurricane on record in the Western Hemisphere brought Category 5 winds and a terrifying storm surge to the upper Florida Keys on the late evening of Monday, September 2, 1935.” The storm killed over people.
The storm was so huge its winds wrecked parts of Tampa, which is on the western side of Florida, fairly far from where the storm landed. As it moved up the East Coast, the storm dumped nearly 17 inches of rain in Maryland, and 13 inches in Atlantic City.
Several storms since the 1935 hurricane have been nearly as powerful. In particular, Hurricane Camille hit Cuba and southern Florida in August 1969. It has maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. Hurricane Gilbert hit parts of the U.S. in September 1988. Its maximum wind speed was 160 miles per hour. Hurricane Irma hit the U.S. nearly two years ago in September 2017. Its maximum sustained winds were 155 miles per hour and hit Florida.
The best way to measure large hurricanes is to review the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hurricane database (HURDAT 2), which tracks the date, time, location, minimum pressure (in millibars) and wind data for hurricane episodes from 1851 to 2017. Hurricanes were ranked according to their minimum pressure in millibars, where one millibar is the equivalent of 100 pascals in pressure. The lower a storm’s minimum pressure, the stronger the storm is. For context, air pressure is 1,013 millibars at sea level.