Hurricanes bundle a great deal of energy and can unleash that upon those in its path in the form of damaging winds, torrential rains, record-breaking storm surges, lightning strikes and even tornadoes. Much of their potential damage, however, depends upon the strength of the individual hurricane. To help classify the destructive potential of any individual hurricane, scientists have developed the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which gives hurricanes a rating from one to five, increasing as the storm becomes more dangerous.
Why do we need the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale?
Hurricane winds can range from sustained speeds of 74 mph to more than 160 mph. The types and amounts of damage caused by a hurricane vary widely depending upon its strength. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale provides an easy way for NOAA's National Hurricane Center to categorize the level of hazard and type of damage that can be expected by those in the path of a hurricane allowing them to prepare appropriately in order to stay safe and reduce property damage. It is a simple guide that is easy to communicate and understand.
What are some of the risks of any hurricane?
Hurricanes, by definition, include damaging winds that can carry dangerous debris, heavy rains that result in widespread flooding, and dangerous lightning. They also bring the risk of tornadoes, storm surges, and dangerous rip tides. Regardless of the expected storm intensity, evacuation orders and other precautionary measures urged or mandated by local emergency preparedness officials should be monitored and heeded as any hurricane approaches.
What is expected from a Category 1 Hurricane?
Category 1 Hurricanes have sustained winds of 74 to 95 mph that are classified as very dangerous and capable of causing some damage. NOAA says the main damage to people and livestock from a hurricane of this magnitude is from flying debris, but mobile homes built before 1994 standards can be destroyed. Poorly constructed buildings may experience damage to, or even the loss of, the roof. Power outages can be expected. Windows should be protected or may risk being broken by flying debris. Loose or poorly attached items may be blown away by the winds. Items like rain gutters, screen houses, signs and fences face this risk.
What is expected from a Category 2 Hurricane?
Sustained winds of 96 mph to 110 mph are categorized as extremely dangerous and will be expected to cause extensive damage. All the risks and expected damage from a Category 1 storm can be expected with extent and probabilities of those types of damages increasing. Additionally, even newer mobile home models may be shredded by flying debris or destroyed by the winds. Shallowly rooted trees may be uprooted or snapped. Many roads should be expected to be blocked. Power outages of the entire affected area may be expected to last days or weeks. Public drinking water systems may fail.
What is expected of a Category 3 Hurricane?
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale says that when hurricanes have sustained winds of 111 mph to 130 mph, devastating damage will occur. The risk of death or severe injury to humans and livestock is high and nearly all pre-1994 mobile homes will be destroyed. Newer mobile homes and framed homes built to lower standards may be destroyed as the roof is torn off and walls collapse. Metal and masonry buildings face a risk of collapse and even well-built framed buildings may experience extensive damage as roofing and siding materials are stripped off by powerful winds. Expect electricity and clean drinking water to be unavailable for days or weeks after the hurricane passes. Extensive road blockages may also persist for days as crews work to clean up the damage.
What kinds of damage can be expected by a Category 4 Hurricane?
Sustained wind speeds of 131 mph to 155 mph will cause catastrophic damage. The risks and intensity of damage from lower level hurricanes are all increased dramatically when a hurricane gets this strong. Even well-built homes may be destroyed as the roof is ripped off and walls torn open. Almost every window on windward sides of buildings in the path of a Category 4 hurricane will be broken by flying debris if unprotected. Even plywood coverings may be torn away from windows. Windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings creating a very dangerous falling glass hazard. Most telephone poles will be broken resulting in power outages across the entire region that may take weeks or months to be totally restored. Lack of water and basic services, says NOAA, may make the entire area uninhabitable for weeks after the passage of a hurricane of this intensity.
How bad is a Category 5 Hurricane?
When a hurricane's sustained winds exceed 155 mph, a high percentage of even well-built homes and commercial buildings will receive extensive damage or be destroyed. Nearly all windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings. Again, lack of electrical power, water, and other basic services may make the area uninhabitable for weeks or months. Hurricane Andrew in 1992 had some sustained winds at the Category 5 level as it swept across parts of Cutler-Ridge, Fla. According to information from the University of Arizona's Geosciences Department, Hurricane Andrew killed only 25 people in Florida (thanks to advance warnings and evacuations) it left more than a quarter of a million more homeless. Property damage exceeded $25 billion in the United States alone as it completely destroyed more than 600,000 buildings.