The 15 Most Iconic Hurricane Images of All Time

Jonathan Erdman
Published: July 9, 2018

Some photos and imagery of hurricanes and typhoons are so iconic to meteorologists they can immediately tell you the details about a storm at a glance.

We've collected and ranked the 15 most iconic hurricane/typhoon photos and imagery ever seen, updating through the 2017 hurricane season. In general, the more legendary the image or photo is to meteorologists, the higher the ranking.

To avoid swamping the list with images and photos of a few storms, we've limited this to just one image or photos per storm.

Also, given the relative abundance of satellite imagery and photos in modern times, this list may suffer a bit from recency bias. But these are images and photos any weather history buff will enjoy.

15. Hurricane Isabel From the International Space Station

This close-up view of Hurricane Isabel was taken by one of the Expedition 7 crew members onboard the International Space Station on Sept. 15, 2003.
(NASA)

This is the first intense hurricane I can remember the crew of the International Space Station capturing. When this image was taken, Isabel's western eyewall had become somewhat more ragged, yet the large eye is truly striking. 

 

14. Harvey's Infamous Rainfall Map

Rainfall totals in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi from Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
(David Roth/NOAA Weather Prediction Center)

NOAA meteorologist David Roth has extensively catalogued rainfall from U.S. tropical storms and hurricanes. 

Roth's analysis from Hurricane Harvey was jaw dropping. The areal coverage of at least 20 inches, 30 inches, even 40 inches of rain near the Upper Texas coast and southwest Louisiana was something we hadn't seen before, in a different league from your typical U.S. tropical rainfall event.

Hurricane Harvey's landfall along the Texas coast north of Corpus Christi was damaging enough. But meteorologists will forever remember Harvey as the U.S. record rain event from a single storm.

 

13. Maria Destroys a Radar

Among all the photos of devastation and post-storm struggles from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Dominica, and the satellite and radar imagery of the most intense Atlantic hurricane by pressure east of the Bahamas, there's one damage photo many meteorologists will never forget.

Maria's intense winds destroyed the Doppler radar near San Juan, Puerto Rico, not only blowing away the spherical shell protecting the radar, or radome, but also blowing off the 30-foot wide radar dish on September 20, 2017.

The radar was rebuilt and returned to service the following summer.

(MORE: 10 Findings From the NHC Final Report | Dramatic Images from NWS Report)

 

12. 'Unnamed Hurricane' in the Perfect Storm

Satellite images taken 24 hours apart on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, 1991 showing the "Perfect Storm" morphing into the "Unnamed Hurricane".

You've probably seen the movie and may have read the best-selling book, so you're probably aware of the destruction created by the "Perfect Storm" along parts of the Eastern Seaboard.

(FULL RECAP: The Perfect Storm)

Low pressure off Nova Scotia absorbing Hurricane Grace's energy and moisture was impressive enough. But as the overall storm began to weaken after lashing the East Coast as far south as North Carolina, a tiny circulation within the storm intensified into a full-fledged hurricane on Nov. 1, 1991.

This hurricane was never named, for fear of alarming and confusing the public after the hard hit from the Perfect Storm. The so-called "Unnamed Hurricane" remained well out to sea, and only limped ashore as a weakening tropical storm in Nova Scotia the next day.

 

11. Hugo's Bridge

The damaged Ben Sawyer Bridge linking Charleston, South Carolina to Sullivan's Island is shown following Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
(NOAA)

Amid the devastation of a 20-foot storm tide into Cape Romain and Bulls Bay, South Carolina, and a perilous worst-case near-miss for Charleston, was this damaged section of the Ben Sawyer Bridge, twisted away from rest of it.

(MORE: Retired Atlantic Names Since 1954)

 

10. Four For Florida in '04

Tracks of the four hurricanes making direct hits on parts of Florida in August-September, 2004.

You may have seen other iterations of this general graphic, and some satirical postcards from Florida.

Nothing stands out about the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season more than this single track map, showing the four hurricanes which made direct hits on Florida in a 45-day span in August and September.

 

9. 'Long Island Express'

Island Park, Rhode Island, is heavily damaged by the 1938 Long Island Express.
(Steve Nicklas, NOS, NGS, NOAA)

Despite Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Irene the previous year, the "Long Island Express" of September 1938 is still considered the storm of record in the Northeast.

Of the photos from that "Great New England Hurricane", the photo of blown-over telephone poles in Rhode Island stands out most.

 

8. The Nation's Deadliest Natural Disaster

A woman walks among the wreckage of the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900.
(Library of Congress)

We would be remiss to leave out the nation's deadliest natural disaster: the 1900 Galveston Hurricane that killed at least 8,000 people.

Of the few photos of the hurricane that changed history in southeast Texas, this photo of a woman walking amongst the devastation was used as the cover of an August 2000 paperback.

 

7. Wilma's Pinhole Eye

Visible satellite image of Hurricane Wilma at peak intensity over the western Caribbean Sea on Oct. 19, 2005.
(NOAA)

I'll never forget beginning my shift at The Weather Channel the morning of Oct. 19, 2005, when meteorologist Tim Ballisty, in shock, said to me, "Eight hundred, eighty-two millibars."

That was the Atlantic Basin record-setting low pressure of Hurricane Wilma that morning.

The "pinhole eye," only about 2 miles in diameter, was considered the smallest seen by any National Hurricane Center staff, at the time, according to the final tropical cyclone report from NHC.

 

6. One Home Standing

A home is left standing among debris from Hurricane Ike September 14, 2008 in Gilchrist, Texas.
(Smiley N. Pool-Pool/Getty Images)

The Bolivar Peninsula took the brunt of Hurricane Ike in September 2008.

The 15- to 20-foot storm surge swept over the narrow spit separating Galveston Bay from the Gulf of Mexico, southeast of Houston.

This aftermath photo shows just one home standing among nearby plots swept clean by the surge.

Seven years later, a private pilot released photos taken immediately after Ike, showing the lone house surrounded by surge flooding.

 

5. The Camille Boat

A ship carried by Hurricane Camille's storm surge rests alongside a home in Biloxi, Mississippi.
(NOAA Photo Library)

One of only three Category 5 hurricane landfalls in U.S. history, one could argue Hurricane Camille's most memorable photos involved the complete wiping away of the Richelieu Manor Apartments (before | after) in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

However, this photo of a ship driven inland by the storm surge coming to rest next to a home in Biloxi, Mississippi, has also stood the test of time.

 

4. The Beastly Eye of Haiyan

Close-up satellite image of Super Typhoon Haiyan's eye on Nov. 7, 2013, just hours before a catastrophic landfall in the central Philippines.
(UW-CIMSS)

Any satellite image of Super Typhoon Haiyan, which had reached a peak estimated intensity of 195 mph winds and 895 millibars central pressure near its catastrophic landfall in the Philippines, would burn in your memory. But this image from the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies at the University of Wisconsin, is, in my opinion, the most incredible close-up of an intense tropical cyclone I've ever seen.

You can see the fine transverse banding in, and near, the eyewall. In fact, the immediate edge of the eye itself resembles a circular saw blade – appropriate for the strongest landfalling tropical cyclone on record.

 

3. Hurricane Andrew's Landfall

Radar image of Hurricane Andrew at landfall in South Florida on August 24, 1992.

If this was a ranking of most spectacular radar images of landfalling hurricanes, this would've won in a runaway.

Despite the devastation of Category 5 Andrew's landfall over the south Miami metro area, this radar image also shows how close this was to becoming an even greater catastrophe for downtown Miami.

 

2. Sandy Submerges a Roller Coaster

Waves wash over a roller coaster from a Seaside Heights, N.J. amusement park that fell in the Atlantic Ocean during superstorm Sandy on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012.
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Only devoting one photo or satellite image to what was at the time the nation's second-costliest tropical cyclone seems wrong.

While the flooding of New York City area subways was certainly iconic, the view of the Seaside Heights, New Jersey, Jet Star roller coaster pulled into the water was our choice.

In fact, another photo of this submerged coaster won weather.com's 2015 photo contest.

 

1. Katrina

An aerial view of New Orleans shows rising floodwaters threatening the city's center, including the Superdome. Tens of thousands displaced residents sought shelter at the dome during and after Hurricane Katrina.
(U.S. Navy/Jeremy L. Grisham)

America's costliest and one of its deadliest hurricanes is virtually impossible to sum up in one photo or image.

Buildings along the Mississippi Gulf Coast were wiped away from a U.S. record storm surge up to 28 feet.

Without neglecting the Mississippi landfall, virtually any photo showing New Orleans underwater, and the misery it wrought, will remain branded in the memory of most meteorologists for a lifetime.

(MORE: Katrina 10: A weather.com Special Report)

Jonathan Erdman is a senior meteorologist at weather.com, an incurable weather geek since a tornado narrowly missed his childhood home in Wisconsin at age 7, and a contributor to The Weather Channel Podcast. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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