Louisiana hurricane history

Tue Mar 30 2021

Storm clouds gathering over two palm trees

Louisiana is no stranger to hurricanes and storm damage. In 2020 alone, private insurers in Louisiana paid $4.5 billion for 101,000 storm-related claims. The state trails only Florida for most single-family homes at risk for a Category 5 hurricane: Louisiana has 843,349 at-risk homes; Florida has 2,851,642.

According to NOAA, one hurricane will make landfall in Louisiana every 2.8 years. Understanding Louisiana’s hurricane history, storm patterns, and damage can help residents better prepare for the weather. Let’s take a look.

Louisiana’s biggest hurricanes

Louisiana’s biggest and most devastating hurricane in recent years was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm caused more than $125 billion in damages and claimed the lives of more than 1,570 Louisiana residents. Entire urban communities were submerged in more than 10 feet of water. New Orleans still hasn’t fully recovered. The storm displaced more than 1 million people at its peak. Recent estimates say more than 400,000 people have been permanently displaced by the storm. Hurricane Katrina’s legacy is still felt throughout the state.

Not every storm hits Louisiana with the same intensity, though seven hurricanes in recent history have reached a similar windspeed. Take a look at the chart below.

Storm name Year Max windspeed
Audrey 1957 177 mph
Betsy 1965 130 mph
Camille 1969 190 mph
Andrew 1992 141 mph
Katrina 2005 175 mph
Rita 2005 175 mph
Ike 2008 110 mph

Louisiana’s costliest hurricanes

The damage a hurricane can cause is twofold. First, the intense wind speeds can cause damage on their own, blowing debris at such velocity that they act as projectiles. Wind can be strong enough to rip roofs off homes, blow down trees, break windows, upend cars, and more. Second, heavy rains and storm surges almost always accompany hurricanes. As we touched on with Katrina, that amount of rain and flooding can submerge entire communities.

That’s why it’s so important to fortify your home in the state of Louisiana. Strong roofs, hurricane shutters, and adequate homeowners insurance can make a world of difference when you need to recover from a major storm. Learn about hurricane insurance in Louisiana.

These are the hurricanes that have caused the most damage in Louisiana to date.

Storm Cost of damages
Betsy $1.42 billion
Camille $1.42 billion
Andrew $25 billion
Katrina $125 billion
Rita $10.5 billion
Ike $34.8 billion

Costliest hurricane in US history: Hurricane Katrina

Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005. It’s obvious from our data that Hurricane Katrina was costlier than the next worst hurricane by multiples. With more than $125 billion in damages across Louisiana and more than $161 billion in damages throughout the Gulf Coast, Katrina cost nearly four times more than Hurricane Ike.

Here are some key statistics about Hurricane Katrina.

  • Hurricane Katrina was Category 3 at landfall
    • Max Winds: 175 mph
    • Highest Storm Surge: 11.45 feet
    • Louisiana Fatalities: 1,577
    • Damaged Homes: 850,000
    • Destroyed Vehicles: 350,000
    • Destroyed Ships and Boat Vessels: 2,400

Hurricane Katrina showed just how vulnerable even urban cities were to a major storm. People fled by foot on freeway overpasses or made their way to rooftops to await rescue. Many who fled hard-hit areas like New Orleans have yet to return.

Because many areas around New Orleans were not classified as FEMA flood zones, many residents were not required to have flood insurance. The levee, which failed during the storm, also gave a false sense of security for the community.

In fact, even after Katrina, nearly 53 percent of the city’s properties are still classified as non-risk flood zones even though these exact areas saw nearly 12 feet of floodwater during the storm.

It’s a good reminder that flood insurance is a necessary safeguard, especially in Louisiana.

Why does Louisiana experience so many hurricanes?

Louisiana’s position along the Gulf of Mexico makes the state especially susceptible to hurricanes. The Gulf is ideal for the formation of hurricanes each year because of its warm water and its location. Hurricanes in the northern hemisphere form at tropical and subtropical regions and move toward the East Coast. The Gulf’s warm water creates the perfect conditions for hurricanes to form. The water must be at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain a hurricane, and the Gulf is regularly 83 degrees in summer months.

The hurricane is formed as warm moisture rises above the water and cools at higher altitudes in zones of low pressure. This starts the formation of clouds which will begin to rotate in alignment with the Earth’s rotation to create an organized pressure system. With more warm water, the storm clouds and speeds grow. Wind speeds need to reach at least 74 miles per hour for the system to become a hurricane.

For Louisiana, hurricane season lasts from June 1 to November 30 each year. At least three named storms happen in August alone each year. Both Hurricane Andrew and Katrina were August storms.

Climate change and the future of Louisiana hurricanes

The entire planet is feeling the effects of climate change and global warming, and Louisiana is no exception. The state is warmer and rising waters threaten low-lying properties with flooding. Soil is drier, but there’s an increase in annual rainfall, most of which happens in heavy downpours. Tropical storms and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more intense.

Higher sea levels is a major concern. Grand Isle, Louisiana, measured one of the three highest rates of sea-level rise in 2019. The area rose 7.93 millimeters for the year, higher than both Rockport and Galveston where the other notable levels were recorded. At this rate, the water levels in the area could be 1.77 feet higher by 2050.

The water is getting warmer, too. Seawater is holding more heat from greenhouse gases. During summer months, the Grand Isle water temperature averages 83 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. But climate data suggests that water is heating up at an average rate of 0.13 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. Water farther offshore where drilling occurs measured temperatures 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal in 2020.

This means more warm water to fuel intense hurricanes.

In other words, Louisiana residents need to be more prepared for the next storm because the risk of damage and flooding grows by the year.

Learning from Louisiana’s hurricane history

The hurricanes of the past can help us predict and brace for worse storms in the future. That means fortifying your home for hurricane and flood risks and making sure your insurance can protect you.

Take a lesson from Katrina: even if you’re not in a high-risk flood zone, your area can still flood. Don’t take a chance on your life’s biggest investment. Learn about flood protection with rates as low as $175 per year.


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