The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a standard scale used to rate the intensity and severity of storms that have already reached the level of hurricane. It is used in the United States. This scale measures the damage that is caused by hurricanes, categorizing it from minimal damage to catastrophic damage. This scale was first developed in the late 1960’s by a structural engineer by the name of Herbert Saffir. It was later expanded by Robert Simpson in the early 1970’s. Simpson was the Director of the National Hurricane Center at that time.
This 5-point rating scale is applied to hurricanes by assigning them to a particular category. Each category is represented by a number between 1 and 5. A description of each category follows:
A hurricane that is labeled as a category 1 storm is considered Weak for a hurricane. Winds may reach between 74 and 95 miles per hour (mph). Damage may be above normal limits, but may be considered very light.
Category 2 hurricanes are Moderate storms. Wind speeds average between 96 and 110 mph. Storm damage generally includes damage to roofing, windows, crops and vegetation, and mobile homes.
Hurricanes with wind speeds between 111 and 130 mph are considered Strong storms. Buildings can sustain extensive damage and mobile homes are easily destroyed.
The worst hurricane to hit U.S. soil in recent history was Hurricane Katrina in 2006 and it was labeled as a category 4 storm. A category 4 storm is considered to be Very Strong with wind speeds between 131 and 156 mph. Category 4 storms can cause complete roof failure on small houses and major damage to the lower levels of buildings. Serious erosion of beaches can also occur.
A category 5 hurricane is a devastating storm with unbelievable wind speeds reaching above 156 mph. This type of hurricane can wreak havoc by causing complete roof failure on many types of houses (not just small homes) as well as on industrial buildings. It can also cause some complete structure failures.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale is a valuable tool used today by meteorologists, relief agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, as well as the general public. The proper use of this scale can help people prepare ahead of time for an approaching hurricane and potentially save lives.
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The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Copyright 2008. Columbia University Press.