What is the Saffir Simpron Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale was developed in 1971 by Herbert Saffir, a civil engineer in Coral Gables, Florida. Dr. Robert Simpson, director of the National Hurricane Center at that time, made additions and it became known as the Saffir-Simpson Scale. It was introduced to the general public in 1973.

The Saffir-Simpson is primarily based on wind speeds, but also includes estimates of barometric pressure and storm surges.  The scale outlines five categories of hurricanes, giving an estimate of the potential damage and flooding expected when a hurricane hits landfall.

Other areas of the world use different classification scales to apply to the cyclones or typhoons that are like the hurricanes that form in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean.

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale gives five categories ranging from one the weakest, to five the strongest hurricane. Here is a short description of each of the categories on the scale.

Category one

Hurricanes in category one have winds from 74 to 95 miles per hour.  Damage to building structures is expected to be minimal.  Unanchored mobile homes, shrubbery and trees will sustain some damage and there will be flooding to coastal roads. Examples of hurricanes of category one are Florence that hit Louisiana in 1988 and Charley that hit North Carolina, also in 1988.

Category two

The winds in a category two hurricane will reach between 96 and 110 miles per hour.  It is expected that there will be damage to roofs, doors and windows.  Mobile homes, piers and vegetation may receive considerable damage.  There will be flooding to coastal roads from 2-4 hours before the center of the hurricane hits. A couple of examples of category two hurricanes doing moderate damage are Kate in Florida in 1985 and Bob that hit New York in 1991.

Category three

A category three hurricane has winds of from 111 – 130 miles per hour.  Structural damage can be expected for small residences and utility buildings.  Mobile homes are destroyed. Floating debris can be found in the flooding which destroys smaller structures and causes damage to larger structures.  Flooding can occur eight miles or more inland.  An example of a category three hurricane is Alicia which caused extensive damage to Texas in 1983.

Category four

A category four hurricane has winds of from 131-155 miles per hour.  Hurricanes of this category cause extensive damage to structures, major beach erosion of beaches and major damage to lower floors of structures near the shore.  It may be necessary to require massive evacuation of residential areas as far as six miles inland. Examples of extreme hurricanes are Andrew in Florida in 1992 and Hugo in North Carolina in 1989.

Category five

Hurricanes with wind speeds greater than 155 miles per hour are a category five.  Hurricanes of this magnitude cause catastrophic damage.  Roofs will be torn off on residences and industrial buildings and some buildings will be blown over or away.  There is major damage to lower floors of all structures within 500 yards of the shoreline.  Massive evacuation of residential areas is required for up to 10 miles of the shoreline.  Some examples of  hurricanes of a category five intensity are the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, Camille that struck Mississippi in 1969 and Katrina that hit Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005.

All hurricanes are dangerous, but some are more dangerous than others.  This is why the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is useful in alerting citizens to the disaster potential of approaching hurricanes. If alerted in enough time, residents can take precautions or even evacuate if necessary.