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Hurricane Categories

Hurricane Categories

Do the news reports on hurricane categories always leave you puzzled? These categories can serve you well, by helping you to equip yourself for the coming natural disaster.
Rohini Mohan
Hurricanes are one of the worst natural disasters known to man, we can predict them but we cannot evade them. In order to fully understand the different Hurricane categories, it is first necessary to know what causes hurricanes and what makes them so deadly. Hurricanes are severe tropical cyclones accompanied by heavy rain and storm, which are caused when trade winds, warm ocean water, and condensed water vapor in the moist air present over the ocean, amalgamate at one single point. It is the 'Coriolis force' that gives hurricane storms its tremendous velocity, giving it the potential to carry huge mass of ocean water and tidal waves.

Hurricanes are often created in the North Atlantic Ocean and North Pacific Ocean situated to the east of the International Dateline. The U.S. National Weather Service's 'National Hurricane Center/Tropical Prediction Center' is the main head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is mainly responsible for tracking and predicting the behavior patterns of hurricanes, tropical depressions, and storms. The extent of hurricane occurrences has escalated manifolds during the last two decade. Many scientists believe that global warming is to be blamed for this rise in frequency and intensity at which hurricanes are hitting hugely populated coastal areas.

Hurricanes are measured by 'The Saffir-Simpson Scale' which is used for rating the wind span of the approaching storm and its damage-causing capabilities. The scale was developed during the late 1960s by Herbert Saffir, in order to study and quantify hurricane categories, wind speed, and the damage done by hurricanes to buildings and low-cost housings. It was further developed by Robert Simpson during the early 1970s to include surge levels and its escalation ratio in comparison to each category of hurricane. It helped measure the collateral effects as well as the magnitude of floods and storms brought along by the impending hurricane. There are 5 categories of hurricanes on The Saffir-Simpson Scale, and each category is analyzed by meteorologists on four grounds. They are:
  1. The Barometric Pressure
  2. Wind Damage
  3. Storm Surge
  4. Collateral Damage

Hurricane Categories: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

The hurricane categories1-5 have been discussed below. The hurricane category charts have been divided into 5 categories, each showing the wind surge and the level of destruction caused to housing areas and buildings.

Categories and Wind Velocity Effect of Winds on Life and Property Surge of the Hurricane
Cat-1 / 74-95 mph Flying debris could injure or fatally wound people, livestock, and small animals. Mobile homes build before 1994, that have not been anchored may face a slight possibility of being destroyed and smaller houses may lose their roofs. Porch coverings may get removed and masonry chimneys may get toppled. High-rise buildings might have their windows completely damaged. Power lines will be damaged, stopping electricity until the hurricane has passed.

Examples: Hurricane Dolly in South Padre Islands -Texas (2008) and Hurricane Gaston in South Carolina (2004)
Cat-2 / 96-110 mph Increased chances of casualties and death. Old canopies and mobile homes may get severely damaged or blown away if not anchored well. Small trees and shrubberies will be uprooted. Larger levels of destruction than Cat-1.

Example: Hurricane Frances, Port St. Lucie - Florida (2004) and Hurricane Isabel in North Carolina (2003)
Cat-3 / 111-130 mph All old mobile homes will be damaged beyond repair, new ones will face structural damage. Roofs will be ripped off and external walls will be completely destroyed. Trees will be uprooted and will cause road blocks and further damage to property and life. No electricity or water for days.

Examples: Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana (2005) and Hurricane Ivan in Alabama (2004)
Cat-4 / 131-155 mph Loss of life and livestock. Deep fissures and erosion in beach areas, collapse of buildings close to the shore. Severe flooding that sweeps into the inner lands that are further away from the actual coastal area.

Example: Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda - Florida (2004), Hurricane Iniki in Hawaii (1992) and the Galveston Hurricane in Texas (1900)
13-18 Ft: EXTREME
Cat-5 / 155 + mph Catastrophic extend of damage causing massive loss of human lives and livestock. Irreparable damage to property, flora, and fauna. Expect massive flooding and immediate evacuation. Need for aerial supply of food resources to relief camps.

Examples: Hurricane Andrew in the coastal regions of Cutler Ridge - Florida (1992) and Hurricane Mitch (1998)
18+ Ft : FATAL

Hurricane categories are simple to understand, they give you some useful and lifesaving hurricane preparedness tips. Hopefully, the Saffir-Simpson scale has given you a better insight into what are the categories of hurricanes and how to read them. Even though we cannot stop hurricanes, we can always be careful in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones by being vigilant. These categories have been developed after painstaking research and analysis, and using them the correct way can help save many precious lives.