Hurricane Categories

Hurricane season comes around year after year, June 1 to November 30 in the Atlantic region and May 15 to November 30 in the Eastern Pacific.  During this time, tropical storms can turn to ravaging hurricanes with only little advance warning.  People living in island and coastal areas need to always be particularly aware, especially between August and October, when a majority of hurricanes typically occur. 

Hurricanes are categorized by their overall severity through the use of the Saffir/ Simpson hurricane scale.  This scale was formulated in the early 1970s by the director of the National Hurricane Center at the time, Dr. Robert Simpson, and a consulting engineer, Herbet Saffir.  This scale includes five hurricane categories, with one being the least severe and five being the most severe.  It predicts estimated storm surge and the damage that is likely to occur based upon wind speed. 

Category one hurricanes generally involve wind speeds ranging from 74 to 95 miles per hour and storm surges up to four or five feet.  In most cases, buildings and other permanent structures remain unscathed or sustain only very minor damage.  However non-permanent structures such as trailers, campers, etc. and shubbery and trees usually experience heavy damage in these types of hurricanes.  Flooding usually only occurs in areas near the coast.  As long as people take cover and stay inside a safe shelter away from flying debris and storm surge areas, they likely will remain unharmed. 

Category two hurricanes are known for winds with speeds between 96 and 110 miles per hour with storm surges that typically reach six to eight feet.  Structures generally sustain minor to moderate damage during these storms including lost shingles, siding, and/or gutters, broken windows, damaged doors, etc.  Piers are likely significantly damaged as are small boats and other watercraft.  As long as people take cover in a protected shelter, there are typically few injuries or lost lives in these storms. 

Category three hurricanes typically include wind speeds ranging from 111 to 130 miles per hour with storm surges of nine to twelve feet.  Mobile homes, trailers, campers, and other non-permanent homes are generally destroyed while small permanent residences and other small buidings are either significantly damaged or destroyed.  Coastal areas are usually flooded significantly with small structures destroyed and large structures damaged greatly by rapid currents and floating debris.  Trees are usually stripped of their lives and damaged significantly if they are not lost completely

Category four hurricanes contain winds that range in speed from 131 to 155 miles per hour and storm surges from thirteen to eighteen feet.  Unprotected homes, especially those nearest the coastal areas are usually significantly damaged or lost completely.  It is common with this strength of storm for roofs to be torn off and windows not boarded up to be broken.  Flooding is intense, even well inland.  Beaches are typically eroded to a major level and many trees are lost, falling onto roads or buildings, causing even more damage. 

Category five hurricanes are extremely catastrophic.  They are the most severe hurricanes there are.  Wind strengths exceed a pace of 156 miles per hour.  Many, if not nearly all, structures, vehicles, and anything else on land, especially what is nearest the coast.  Storm surges potentially reach eighteen feet or higher causing significant flooding in both coastal and inland areas far from the water.  Many trees are lost.  Usually mass evacuations are issued for storms this severe.  People who do not heed evacuation warnings are in extreme danger.  It may be difficult to get to them to rescue them during or after the storm with the extreme conditions of this type of hurricane.

Hurricanes will always occur, they are part of the climate cycle of some coastal areas.  Sometimes they are severe and sometimes they are not so severe.  Categorizing them helps people know what to expect from particular storms and what they need to do to protect their homes, businesses, and themselves.