Special Report

Remembering Maria: How Puerto Rico's Worst Hurricane Compares to America's Most Destructive Weather Disasters

Thomas C. Frohlich

The 2018 hurricane season has so far had 10 named storms, five of which have been hurricanes. While far from over, this season will likely be less severe than 2017’s record-breaking set of hurricanes.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in particular led to thousands of deaths and caused hundreds of billions of dollars in damage in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, where one year later the storm’s devastation still lingers. With less resilient infrastructure in a storm-prone region, Maria hit Puerto Rico especially hard, destroying roads, interrupting the water supply, electricity, telecommunications networks, and access to medical care.

On average, households went 84 days without electricity, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cellular telephone coverage after the hurricane.

All told, Maria caused an estimated $90 billion in damages, making it after adjusting to inflation the third most destructive storm on record in the United States.

Hurricane Maria formed in mid-Sept. 2017 off the coast of West Africa. Its intensity rose as it moved westward over the Atlantic. By the time it struck Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 — just two weeks after the territory had sustained damage from Hurricane Irma — it was close to a category 5 storm.

In remembrance of Maria’s devastation, 24/7 Wall St. compared the storm’s strength, death toll, and damage to 20 of the most costly hurricanes in U.S. history. We obtained the location, month and year of each storm’s landfall from the National Weather Service. In some instances, a hurricane had multiple landfall events. In such cases, we selected either the first landfall, or the landfall during the storm’s peak strength.

Few storms can claim such perfectly unfortunate conditions as Maria. The hurricane made landfall at near the peak of the storm’s strength, which is unusual compared with other tropical cyclones; and Puerto Rico was at that time reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Before devastating the Caribbean, Irma left 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power.

Click here to see how Puerto Rico’s Worst Hurricane Compares to the Most Devastating Hurricanes in American History.