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Hurricane Harvey’s Impact — And How It Compares To Other Storms

Hurricane Harvey, which dumped an estimated 27 trillion gallons of water on Texas and Louisiana, looks to be one of the most damaging natural disasters in U.S. history. Flooding continues to affect large areas of Houston, Beaumont and other areas of Texas. Tens of thousands have been forced to evacuate their homes, and rig shut downs and evacuations along the Gulf have curbed oil and gas production. The White House, meanwhile, is expected to ask Congress for $14.5 billion in relief funding. While we don’t know Harvey’s ultimate toll on life and property — and won’t for some time — here are the best estimates of the hurricane’s impacts so far, and how they compare to the destruction wrought by other major storms.

Economic impact

Estimates of Harvey’s cost vary, with some predicting that the storm will be the most expensive in U.S. history at over $190 billion, surpassing Hurricane Katrina. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Katrina to have cost around $160 billion.) If that ends up being the case, it would greatly increase the total cost of billion-dollar-plus events since 1980. Others predict that the cost will be closer to that of Superstorm Sandy, at around $70-90 billion.

In general, hurricanes are a particularly devastating type of natural disaster. Of the billion-dollar disasters shown in the chart above, the 10 most destructive hurricanes caused an estimated $442 billion in losses, over a third of the $1.2 trillion caused by all 212 events combined. And while billion-dollar hurricanes haven’t been growing more frequent, Harvey and other super damaging weather and climate disasters are part of a continuing, costly trend.

Rain and flooding

One reason for Harvey’s estimated record cost is the sheer amount of rain and flooding brought on by the storm. Harvey set the record for tropical cyclone rainfall measured in any one place in the U.S. over at least the past 50 years.

Since its landfall on Aug. 25th, Harvey also brought extensive flooding in and around Houston and Beaumont before it dissipated and made its way inland.

Because of Harvey’s flood impacts, many have compared it to Hurricane Katrina. Katrina’s devastation was a result of the failure of government flood protection systems, violent storm surges, a chaotic evacuation plan and an ill-prepared city government. Harvey, on the other hand, has caused massive flooding at a slower pace, without Katrina’s deadly surge. In this way it resembles other costly and damaging tropical cyclones of the past 30 years.

The most expensive and fatal tropical storms

Billion-dollar tropical cyclones that made landfall in the U.S. since 1980

START DATE TROPICAL CYCLONE EST. COST EST. DEATHS
1 Aug. 25, 2005 Hurricane Katrina $160.0b 1,833
2 Oct. 30, 2012 Hurricane Sandy 70.2 159
3 Sept. 20, 2005 Hurricane Rita 23.7 119
4 Sept. 12, 2008 Hurricane Ike 34.8 112
5 Sept. 21, 1989 Hurricane Hugo 18.2 86
6 Sept. 14, 1999 Hurricane Floyd 9.7 77
7 Oct. 27, 1985 Hurricane Juan 3.5 63
8 Aug. 23, 1992 Hurricane Andrew 47.8 61
9 Sept. 12, 2004 Hurricane Ivan 27.1 57
10 Sept. 18, 2003 Hurricane Isabel 7.4 55
11 Aug. 31, 2008 Hurricane Gustav 7.0 53
12 Oct. 8, 2016 Hurricane Matthew 10.3 49
13 Sept. 3, 2004 Hurricane Frances 12.9 48
14 Aug. 25, 2017 Hurricane Harvey* 81-108 47
15 Aug. 26, 2011 Hurricane Irene 15.0 45
16 June 5, 2001 Tropical Storm Allison 11.9 43
17 Sept. 5, 1996 Hurricane Fran 8.0 37
18 Oct. 24, 2005 Hurricane Wilma 24.3 35
19 Aug. 13, 2004 Hurricane Charley 21.1 35
20 July 7, 1994 Tropical Storm Alberto 1.7 32
21 Sept. 15, 2004 Hurricane Jeanne 9.9 28
22 Oct. 4, 1995 Hurricane Opal 7.6 27
23 Sept. 1, 2011 Tropical Storm Lee 2.8 21
24 Aug.17, 1983 Hurricane Alicia 7.5 21
25 Aug.18, 1991 Hurricane Bob 2.7 18
26 Sept. 20, 1998 Hurricane Georges 9.1 16
27 July 9, 2005 Hurricane Dennis 3.2 15
28 Sept. 15, 1995 Hurricane Marilyn 3.4 13
29 Aug. 7, 1980 Hurricane Allen 1.9 13
30 Sept. 26, 1985 Hurricane Gloria 2.0 11
31 Aug. 26, 2012 Hurricane Isaac 3.0 9
32 Sept. 11, 1992 Hurricane Iniki 5.5 7
33 Aug. 30, 1985 Hurricane Elena 3.0 4
34 July 23, 2008 Hurricane Dolly 1.5 3
35 Aug. 27, 1998 Hurricane Bonnie 1.5 3
36 Aug. 1, 2002 Hurricane Lili 1.5 2

*The full scope of Hurricane Harvey’s impact and cost are not yet known. The estimated cost range is from Moody’s Analytics. Texas officials estimated Harvey has caused at least 47 deaths, according to the New York Times. Both estimates are as of Sept. 1, 2017.

Sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Moody’s analytics, New YOrk Times

Other impacts to look out for

The immediate effects of Harvey were also felt by the oil and gas industries. Around 10% of manned oil platforms in the Gulf were evacuated, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. While the fallout is still being determined, gas prices have risen and oil and gas rig production has continued to be hampered.

There are many more consequences that residents and officials are only now sorting through. Harvey’s impact may be felt as residents seek claims from insurance companies, encounter environmental contaminants from debris and infrastructural damage and incur the economic effects of displacement. The cleanup has only just begun.

Rachael Dottle is an associate visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

Ritchie King is senior editor for data visualization at FiveThirtyEight.

Ella Koeze is a visual journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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