Hurricane Laura made landfall as a Category 4 storm Thursday morning. Here are the 18 strongest Atlantic hurricanes in history.

Members of Puerto Rico’s civil defence run as Hurricane Irma hits Fajardo, Puerto Rico, September 6, 2017. Alvin Baez/Reuters
  • Hurricane Laura made landfall at the Texas-Louisiana border early Thursday morning as a major Category 4 storm.
  • Laura has already caused severe damage to coastal communities and at least one fatality, according to The Associated Press.
  • Here are the 18 most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in history, measured by maximum sustained wind speed.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Hurricane Laura made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border on Thursday morning with wind speeds around 150 mph.

The hurricane joins a small group of intense US storms: Only 13 other hurricanes in history have ever made landfall at or above 145 mph, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.

Wind speed is the primary way meteorologists measure a storm’s intensity – it’s what determines the categories on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Anything Category 3 and above is considered a major hurricane.

Saffir simpson hurricane scale

Although Hurricane Laura’s landfall has brought extremely dangerous conditions to Louisiana, it isn’t of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes ever, based on wind speed alone.

The chart below ranks the strongest Atlantic hurricanes by maximum sustained winds.

Wind speeds aren’t the only cause of a hurricane’s strength

Hurricanes with faster wind speeds are usually more destructive than those with slower winds. But that’s far from the only factor that determines how dangerous a storm is.

For instance, Hurricane Katrina, the most destructive hurricane in US history, had sustained wind speeds of 125 mph when it made landfall near the Louisiana-Mississippi border.

Hurricane Katrina
A man, woman, and baby puts his baby abandon their car after it started to float in the Treme area of New Orleans, August 29, 2005. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

But Katrina brought a 20-foot-high wall of water to New Orleans, which caused levees to break and 80% of the city to flood. Storm surges like that happen when a storm pushes water levels above the normal tide line; in Katrina’s case, that storm surge accounted for a majority of the 1,800 deaths the hurricane caused.

“Imagine having a high tide that is 30 feet (9.1 m) higher than normal,” scientists Orrin Pilkey and Rob Young wrote in their book, “The Rising Sea.” “Now, imagine there are hurricane-driven waves on top of that extra-high tide. That is the impact of the storm surge.”

Hurricane Katrina
Flooding after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, August 29, 2005. AP Photo/Eric Gay

Climate change is making hurricanes stronger

Climate change is increasing the chances that storms develop high wind speeds. A recent study based on satellite data showed that each new decade over the last 40 years has brought an 8% increase in the chance that a storm turns into a major hurricane. A study from 2013, meanwhile, found that for each degree the planet warmed over the previous 40 years, the proportion of category 4 and 5 storms increased by 25% to 30%.

Hurricane harvey
People navigate flood waters caused by Hurricane Harvey, August 2017. David J. Phillip/AP

“Almost all of the damage and mortality caused by hurricanes is done by major hurricanes,” James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at NOAA and the lead author of the first study, told CNN. “Increasing the likelihood of having a major hurricane will certainly increase this risk.”