How Does Hurricane Harvey Compare to Other Hurricanes?

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Waves pound the shore from approaching Hurricane Harvey on August 25 in Corpus Christi, Texas.

When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas on Friday, it brought destructive winds and historic rainfall which has led to massive flooding and extensive damage to the Houston area.

The Category 4 storm has contributed toward the deaths of at least five people and displaced millions more. But how does Harvey compare to other massive storms to strike the United States?


Damage Estimate

Hurricane Harvey Cajun Navy, the Cajun Navy

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GettySmall, personal boats have been highly effective amidst the massive search and rescue effort following Hurricane Harvey

For starters, Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Charley ravaged southwestern Florida in 2004, causing $16.3 billion in damage.

While damage caused by Harvey is expected to total several billions of dollars, initial estimates are well below the totals caused by other major storms that hit New Orleans and New York. But as the storm continues, definitive estimates haven’t yet been totaled, and various research groups are gauging the total cost of damage all over the map.

According to Hannover Re, one of the largest reinsurers in the world, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused around $80 billion in insured losses the the New Orleans area. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused around $36 billion to the New York area.

“We are far from Katrina and Sandy in magnitude in the case of Hurricane Harvey,” a spokeswoman for Hannover Re told CNBC.

A source with knowledge of the market estimates told CNBC that current inured losses for Harvey are estimated to be at less than $3 billion so far.

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However, the Insurance Information Institute gave a far different outlook on the damage cost. A source from the group told Fox Business that the flood damage alone caused by Harvey could end up matching the $15 billion caused by Katrina.

On Monday, other estimates started to surface, and a Enki Research group reportedly said it estimates $30 billion in damage.

Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki, told Bloomberg Markets in an email that the group took into account “the impact of relentless flooding on the labor force, power grid, transportation and other elements” when making its initial estimate.

If that holds true, that would put the damage from Harvey as one of the top eight hurricanes to strike the U.S.

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Imperial Capital insurance analyst David Havens told Bloomberg that the final damage total could potentially be as high as $100 billion.


Size of the Storm

One of the most important factors when comparing storms to each other is the total size of the storm.

According to CNN, Harvey measured at about 280 miles in size when it made landfall. In comparison, the largest recorded Atlantic storm, Hurricane Igor in 2010, measured at an incredible 920 miles. It threatened the Canadian coast close to Newfoundland, but reached its peak while it was over the ocean.

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Sandy, on the other hand, was the second-largest “suprstorm” in the U.S., measuring 482 miles.


Strength

The Saffir-Simpson scale ranks hurricanes by their size and potential to cause extensive damage, taking into account wind speeds.

Harvey was a Category 4 storm, meaning winds, at points, reached between 130-156 MPH. According to the scale, Category 4 means “catastrophic damage will occur.” As mentioned above, Hurricane Charley reached Category 4 levels in 2004, and Hurricane Ike did so in 2008 when it made landfall in the Bahamas.

Katrina was a Category 1 storm (74-95 MPH) when it hit in Florida, but moved up to a Category 3 (111-129 MPH) once it moved over the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans.

In 1992, a Category 5 storm (157 MPH or higher) made landfall in South Florida, though it was reclassified as a Category 4 in 2002.


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