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By Caryn Shinske January 6, 2013

Environment New Jersey claims Sandy is most destructive Atlantic hurricane

Hurricane Sandy is probably the worst storm to hit New Jersey after it killed 40 people, remade parts of the Shore’s coastline and caused damages in the tens of billions of dollars.

But just how bad was it compared with other hurricanes?

"New Jersey can and must do more to slow global warming, especially after 2012's extreme weather and Hurricane Sandy, the most destructive Atlantic storm ever," Environment New Jersey said recently on its website.

The most destructive Atlantic storm? Ever? Considering the magnitude of some other hurricanes in history, PolitiFact New Jersey decided to investigate.

Doug O’Malley, interim director for Environment New Jersey, said 'destructive' refers to the storm's financial damages. Data shows that while Sandy may be the worst storm to ever batter New Jersey and the tristate region, it’s not the most destructive Atlantic storm in history.

Let’s start with some background.

Sandy slammed New Jersey on Oct. 29, leveling houses along the Shore and inland, and leaving millions without power for extended periods. The storm also unleashed a similar fury on New York and Connecticut.
We checked Atlantic storms in the National Hurricane Center’s data archives, which tracks storm costs through 2010. Hurricane Irene, which hit New Jersey in 2011, is not included.

Leading the list is 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, at $108 billion. Even though Katrina was largely a Gulf Coast storm, doing the most damage in Louisiana and Mississippi, it formed in the Atlantic and made landfall near Florida’s Miami-Dade/Broward county line. It then moved across south Florida into the eastern Gulf of Mexico, according to Hurricane Center data.

"Katrina is still a clear runaway number one" in terms of damages, said Dennis Eltgen, a spokesman at the Miami-based Hurricane Center.

Second on the list is 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, at $26.5 billion in damages. Andrew devastated parts of south Florida, continued into the Gulf of Mexico and turned north, hitting Louisiana.

Those rankings change when damages are adjusted for 2010 dollars.

In that case, the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 that hit southeast Florida and Alabama ranks first, at $164.8 billion; Katrina second, at $113 billion; and Andrew fifth, at $58.5 billion.

Sandy, however, is different than many hurricanes that often swing through the Gulf of Mexico.

"I don’t think we were trying to claim that Sandy was more destructive than Katrina," O’Malley said. "We were trying to say Sandy was the worst hurricane to fully hit the Eastern Seaboard. That being said, Katrina did obviously really hit New Orleans but clearly, it tailed over Florida. We were counting Katrina as only hitting the Gulf Coast. We trust the National Hurricane Center. If they say it’s both, we agree with that."

The governors of New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have estimated Sandy’s damages at $82 billion. President Obama has requested $60 billion in federal aid for the three states. The Senate approved the request and the House passed a $9 billion aid package Friday, and additional aid is expected to pass on Jan. 15.

In making the aid request for the White House, Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director for Management for the Office of Management and Budget, described Sandy’s place in hurricane history in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

"All told, although estimates of the total damage of Hurricane Sandy remain in flux, current projections are that Sandy is on track to be the second or third most costly natural disaster in U.S, history, behind Hurricane Katrina (2005) and close to Hurricane Andrew (1992)," Zients wrote.

Our ruling

Environment New Jersey claimed that October’s Hurricane Sandy is "the most destructive Atlantic storm, ever."

Sandy may be the most destructive storm to hit a part of the Eastern Seaboard but in terms of most destructive Atlantic storms, that title goes to Katrina, which formed in the Atlantic and whose damages topped $100 billion, according to Hurricane Center data. Sandy, however, is very high on the list, with damages totaling at least  $82 billion. Still, that’s not number one in today’s dollars or compared with storms adjusted for inflation in 2010. We rate this statement Mostly False.

To comment on this story, go to

Correction: This report has been corrected: Speaker of the House John Boehner represents Ohio, not Illinois. 

Our Sources

Environment New Jersey website, Dec. 18, 2012

Phone interviews with Doug O’Malley, Environment New Jersey interim director, Dec. 21, 2012 and Jan. 3, 2013

Phone interview with Dennis Eltgen, National Hurricane Center spokesman, Dec. 21, 2012

Phone interview with David Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist, Dec. 21, 2012

National Hurricane Center website, "The Deadliest, Costliest, And Most Intense United States Tropical Cyclones From 1851 to 2010 (And Other Frequently Requested Hurricane Facts)," August 2011, accessed Dec. 21 and 24, 2012, and Jan. 2 and 3, 2013

National Hurricane Center website, "Hurricanes In History," accessed Jan. 2, 2013

White House website, letter from Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director for Management, Office of Management and Budget, to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner requesting federal aid for Hurricane Sandy damages, Dec. 7, 2012, accessed Jan. 2, 2013

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Environment New Jersey claims Sandy is most destructive Atlantic hurricane

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