Hurricane Categories: Here’s What Hurricane Ratings Mean

That Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and runs until November 30. Hurricanes are rated at Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which includes five categories based on the storm’s sustained wind speeds. It also estimates possible damage to property, ranging from “some damage” to “catastrophic.”

The 2023 season saw its first major storm in late August with Hurricane Franklin, a Category 4 hurricane that failed to make landfall but nonetheless led to “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” along the US East Coast. It was followed by Idalia which hit Florida’s Gulf Coast as a major hurricane on Wednesday, August 30.

What is a “major hurricane?”

If a storm is a Category 3, 4 or 5, it is considered a “major” hurricane because of the potential for “significant loss of life and damage,” the National Hurricane Center says. Hurricanes that fall into Category 1 or 2 are still considered dangerous, the center says.

What are the categories of hurricanes and what do they mean?

Here’s how the scale breaks down, according to the National Hurricane Center, starting with a look at the most powerful:

Category 5

Sustained wind speed of 157 mph or higher

  • “Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months,” the National Hurricane Center said.
  • Notable storms: 39 Category 5 storms have been recorded, inclusive Hurricane Andrew of 1992the most destructive storm to ever hit Florida; 2017’s Irma, which devastated Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands as a Category 5 before surpassing Andrew as costliest hurricane ever hit Florida when it made landfall there as a Category 4; and 1969’s Camille, which brought a peak storm surge of 24 feet and killed more than 250 people after it made landfall in Mississippi.

Category 4

Sustained wind speed of 130-156 mph

  • “Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can suffer severe damage with the loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted, and power poles knocked over. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.”
  • Notable storms: Hurricane Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 storm in Texas and Louisiana in 2017, leaving catastrophic floods in its wake; The 2021s Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4, where it caused severe flooding, knocked out power to more than a million people and spawned tornadoes as it moved northeast.

Category 3

Sustained wind speed of 111-129 mph

  • “Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can cause major damage or removal of roofing and gables. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking several roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.”
  • Notable storms: In the busy 2020 hurricane season, late-season Hurricane Zeta strengthened to a Category 3 storm just before disembarks in Louisiana as a Category 2 storm; Hurricane Wilma from 2005which had peaked at Category 5, was a Category 3 when the storm hit Florida.

Category 2

Sustained wind speed of 96-110 mph

  • “Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame houses can withstand extensive roof and side damage. Many shallow trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. A near total loss of power is expected with outages lasting from several days to weeks.”
  • Notable storms: Hurricane Floyd struck North Carolina in 1999 as a Category 2 storm, causing widespread flooding as it traveled up the coast and leading to the cancellation of schools in New Jersey and New York City; when Hurricane Ike made landfall as a Category 2 storm in Texas in 2008, it had weakened from its peak strength as a Category 4 storm.

Category 1

Sustained wind speed of 74-95 mph

  • “Very dangerous winds will cause some damage: Well-constructed frame houses can have damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees break and trees with shallow roots can fall. Extensive damage to power lines and poles will likely result in power outages lasting a few to several days.”
  • Notable storms: Hurricane Sandy was only a Category 1 storm when the superstorm made landfall in New Jersey in 2012 and its storm surge flooded New York City; The 2011s Hurricane Irene was a Category 1 storm when it hit North Carolina, but had weakened to a tropical storm when it made landfall in New Jersey, causing widespread flooding there, in New York and as far north as Vermont.

Should there be a category 6?

In the middle of one unusually violent series of hurricanes in 2017, there was some speculation about whether storms could hit a Category 6. There is officially no such thing as a category 6 hurricane. But the thought of revising or adding to the scale has been discussed by some climate scientists who believe that the current categories may not be sufficient for increasingly extreme storms in the future.

What category was Hurricane Katrina?

Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 as a Category X storm, ultimately flooding more than 80% of New Orleans and killing more than 1,200 people—making it one of the deadliest hurricanes to beat the United States It is one of them costliest hurricanes in US history, doing more than $75 billion in damage. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida all experienced devastation from Katrina.

What category was Hurricane Ian?

Hurricane Ian was a strong Category 4 like that made landing on the west coast of Florida in 2022. The deadly storm knocked out the power to millions. Experts said the rapid intensification of the stormthanks to warm ocean temperatures – and warming oceans are linked to climate change, which is likely to not only make strong hurricanes more frequent, slow storms and allow them to hold more water, leading to more rain.

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