Hurricanes are one of nature’s most powerful forces. Combining high winds, torrential rains and powerful storm surges, these tempests always leave the same calling card – a tragic path of death and destruction. Hurricanes can be historically ranked by a number of variables, including strength (pressure), wind speed (Saffir-Simpson Scale), the amount of property damage caused or the number of lives lost. Furthermore, these hurricanes can be ranked according to each storm’s highest, overall strength or their strength at landfall. This list provides a ranking of the seven strongest hurricanes, based upon the highest wind speeds produced – regardless of when the storm achieved this maximum strength.
1. Hurricane Camille 1969
2. Hurricane Wilma 2005
3. Hurricane Gilbert 1988
Hurricane Gilbert, a category 5 hurricane, reached maximum intensity on September 14, with a minimum central pressure of 888 millibars. The hurricane produced maximum sustained winds of 160 knots. Gilbert made landfall in the Yucatan peninsula as a category 5 hurricane – one of only three hurricanes to make landfall as a category 5 storm. Gilbert was responsible for 256 deaths.
4. Hurricane Rita 2005
Hurricane Rita reached maximum intensity on September 22, as a category 5 hurricane. The storm produced maximum sustained winds of 155 knots, with maximum winds of 161 knots. Rita’s minimum central pressure of 897 millibars ranks her as the fourth strongest Atlantic hurricane. Rita made landfall near the Texas and Louisiana border as a category 3 hurricane, causing 7 deaths.
5. Hurricane Katrina 2005
Hurricane Katrina peaked as a category 5 hurricane on August 28, with a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars – the fifth strongest hurricane on record. The storm produced maximum sustained winds of 150 knots. Katrina made landfall near Buras, Louisiana, as a category 3 hurricane, resulting in approximately 1,200 deaths. This gives Katrina the undesired distinction of being one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history. Estimates place the total damage caused by Katrina at roughly $81 billion, more than three times the cost of Hurricane Andrew ($26.5 billion) – leaving her indelible mark on history as the costliest natural disaster ever.
6. Hurricane Andrew 1992
Hurricane Andrew reached maximum intensity as a category 5 hurricane on August 23, with a minimum central pressure of 922 millibars. The hurricane produced maximum sustained winds of 150 knots. Andrew made landfall in South Florida as a category 4 hurricane, and again in Louisiana as a category 3 hurricane, resulting in 23 total deaths.
The “X” Factor: Florida Keys Hurricane 1935
The Florida Keys hurricane in 1935 was the third strongest hurricane on record, with a minimum central pressure of 892 millibars. However, it is hard to precisely rank this hurricane because no wind-speed data is available from the storm’s core. Conservative estimates place the maximum sustained winds at 140 knots, though it is much more likely that they were in the 150 to 160-knot range. The hurricane made landfall in the Florida Keys as a category 5 hurricane – one of only three hurricanes to make landfall as a category 5 storm. This hurricane left 408 deaths in her wake.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Historical Hurricane Tracks