HOUSTON (WBTV) - Christine Sperow, my co-anchor on the WBTV Morning News, asked me earlier today if I thought Hurricane Harvey would be a "greater disaster" than Katrina or Sandy.
My answer was yes, but I'm not 100% sure.
Her question got me thinking, there are so many ways to classify and rank disasters. Are we talking about fatalities? Insured losses? Economic impact?
Out of the top 10 deadliest natural disasters in US history, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 only ranks as number 7 - and the only one after 1950 – with approximately 1,800 fatalities directly related to the storm.
Arguably, the flooding due to the failure of the New Orleans levee system was at least partially a man-made disaster, so it can be debated that the actual loss of life directly related to Hurricane Katrina was far less, but that's a blog for another day.
Until Harvey's flood waters recede – and who knows exactly when that will occur – an exact death toll can't accurately be considered, but by nearly every other measure, Hurricane Harvey may indeed go down in the books as the worst and maybe costliest American natural disaster of all-time.
Here's what we do know: there are several reliable reports of more than 40 inches of rain thus far in the Houston metro area and there could easily be another 10 to 20 inches of rain in the region through midweek.
With such a forecast, area rivers are not expected to crest until Wednesday or even Thursday, so the worst may, in fact, be yet to come. Sadly, only 15% of the homes in Harris County, home to Houston, are covered by flood insurance.
We also know that part of the reason this will likely be the costliest natural disasters in our nation's history is the sheer expanse of land now under water. Houston is not south Dade County Florida, the relatively small area south of Miami devastated by Hurricane Andrew and it's not New Orleans, a much smaller city by comparison.
Houston is the 4th largest US metro area with 7 million residents, 2.3 million within the city limits. A vast area of 50 counties in Texas and Louisiana are under water, without power and shut down for the foreseeable future.
The Houston area is a major transportation hub and home to the nation's energy industry and its 2nd busiest port, so the industry will take a major hit – with far reaching implications.
In terms of insured losses, Katrina ranks as the costliest storm in US history, coming at a staggering $160 billion. By comparison, the New York metropolitan area "only" suffered $70 billion in losses attributed to Superstorm Sandy. Only time will tell if Hurricane Harvey finds itself up near the top of that list.
- Meteorologist Al Conklin