The largest loss of life from a hurricane is often caused by storm surge and flooding rather than the winds. Do not underestimate a lower category hurricane! None of the top five deadliest hurricanes in United States history was a Category 5 hurricane at landfall.
Deadliest Hurricane to Hit the United States
The Great Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States and caused between 8000 and 12000 deaths. The storm reached the Texas coast south of Galveston on September 8 as a Category 4 hurricane with a storm surge of 8 to 15 feet. The lack of warning and the high storm surge caused this storm to have the highest death toll of any United States hurricane.
Second-Deadliest Hurricane to Hit the United States
The 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane which claimed 2500-3000 lives was the second-deadliest hurricane in United States history. Most of the deaths from this hurricane were caused by a lake surge of 6 to 9 feet that inundated areas surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
Third-Deadliest Hurricane to Hit the United States
Hurricane Katrina of 2005, the third-deadliest hurricane in United States history, killed at least 1500 people. Katrina made landfall in the United States at three different locations. Katrina’s first landfall was near the Miami-Dade / Broward county line in Florida, dropping 10 to 14 inches of rain, just after reaching hurricane status. After crossing Florida it strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall near Buras, Louisiana and then made landfall again near the Louisiana / Mississippi border as a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina’s highest storm surge of 25 to 28 feet occurred along the Mississippi coast. Also, this storm dropped 8 to 12 inches of rain inland from the northern Gulf coast and spawned thirty-three tornadoes.