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The 7 most lethal North American storms of the past two decades

Last Updated: October 31, 2012

While Hurricane Sandy wasn't the most powerful storm to ever hit North America, it still wreaked significant damage on the most densely populated swath of the continent, killing at least 55 people in the U.S. and Canada and leaving about eight million without power.

Because it represents the merger of several weather systems, Sandy has been variously dubbed a "superstorm" and a "Frankenstorm."

It has earned comparisons to "The Perfect Storm" of 1991, in which a nor'easter absorbed a tropical storm and reached its peak as a powerful cyclone. Also known as the "Halloween Nor'easter," that storm killed 13 people and caused more than $200 million US in damage. It also inspired a book and a nail-biting movie starring George Clooney.

Here's a look at some of the most destructive storms to hit North America in the past two decades.

The Storm of the Century (1993)

Not to be confused with the significantly milder "Storm of the Century" that occurred in 2003, this cyclonic blizzard hit in March 1993 and featured hurricane-force winds and scattered tornadoes. Its defining feature was the amount of snow it dumped on the continent - some parts of West Virginia, for example, saw more than 127 centimetres (50 inches) of the white stuff. At one point, the storm knocked out power for 10 million Americans.

Final tally: 310 dead and $6.6 billion US in damage

Hurricane Gordon (1994)

Emerging in November, this late-season hurricane did the bulk of its harm in Haiti (more than 1,000 deaths), a country that often suffers a disproportionately high fatality rate when extreme weather systems pass through the Caribbean. Gordon eventually wound its way across Cuba to Florida, where it set off a series of tornadoes and left 425,000 people without power.

Final tally: 1,147 dead and $514 million in damage

The North American Ice Storm (1998)

An ice storm occurs as a result of a sustained bout of precipitation in which rain falling from a warm atmospheric layer meets a cold lower layer of air and turns to ice immediately on contact with the ground. Although it affected a relatively small corridor of eastern North America - from Ontario to Nova Scotia in the north and New York state to Maine south of the border - the 1998 ice storm was calamitous. The accumulation of ice brought down trees and crumpled power lines, leaving millions without electricity for days. In the largest Canadian troop deployment since the Korean war, 15,000 Canadian soldiers were mobilized to help in the clean-up.

Final tally: 35 dead and an estimated $5-7 billion in damage

Hurricane Jeanne (2004)

This tropical storm first made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 15, and gained in intensity as it roiled across the Dominican Republic, reaching peak wind speeds of 195 km/h. While it didn't hit Haiti directly, Jeanne set off flooding and mudslides - and as a result, caused heavy casualties - in the northerneastern part of that country. It eventually lashed the eastern side of the Florida panhandle as a Category 3 hurricane.

Final tally: 3,025 dead and $6.8 billion in damage

Hurricane Katrina (2005)

The most dangerous chapter of the record-breaking 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, Katrina crossed the Florida Keys as a Category 1 hurricane before gathering significant force over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane when it hit Louisiana and Mississippi on Aug. 29. A storm surge, coupled with the collapse of the New Orleans levee system, led to deadly flooding across the city. The coast in neighbouring Mississippi suffered the worst property damage, as everything from homes to cars to bridges were carried inland.

Final tally: 1,833 confirmed dead and between $96 billion and $125 billion in damage

Hurricane Ike (2008)

This tropical cyclone actually began as a disturbance off the coast of Africa, before rampaging across the Atlantic with winds hitting a maximum speed of 230 km/h. Cuba bore the brunt of the storm - Ike forced the evacuation of over a million people and did $7 billion in damage in that Caribbean nation alone. Ike also triggered major flooding in Texas and Mississippi on its way to becoming the second costliest Atlantic hurricane of all time (after Katrina).

Final tally: 195 dead and $37.6 billion in damage

Hurricane Irene (2011)

This tropical storm made early landfall in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Aug. 20-21, reached a peak of 225 km/h in the Bahamas before curling up the eastern U.S. coast. Irene managed to skirt Florida, making its first U.S. landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and a final touchdown in Brooklyn, N.Y. The hurricane produced widespread flooding and destructive tornadoes in many parts of the eastern seaboard.

Final tally: 62 dead and $29 billion in damage



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