When a hurricane warning is issued, it’s important to know what is likely to happen as the storm reaches land – how strong the wind will be, how much water will flood into the area, how much damage will occur, etc. When you know what to expect, you’ll be able to properly prepare for the oncoming storm and ensure your and your family’s safety.
To grasp the situation correctly, you need to understand what meteorologists mean when they’re talking about the hurricane’s category and the magnitude of the storm’s impact.
Hurricane categories don’t predict all related hazards, such as storm surge, rainfall-induced floods, and tornadoes, but they provide a good indication of how the hurricane might affect the local area and help people and disaster organizations gauge the safety measures that must be taken to prepare for the approaching storm.
Hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale – a rating scale that ranks hurricanes in five categories based on the intensities of their sustained winds. Category 1 and 2 storms are dangerous but unlikely to cause devastating damage, while hurricanes of Category 3 and higher are considered major hurricanes as they have the potential to cause significant damage and loss of life.
Here’s everything you need to know about hurricane categories and their associated effects:
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Robert Simpson, sets five categories for the relative strength of hurricanes based on the speeds of their sustained winds.
Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center (NHS) use the scale to assess the potential magnitude of a hurricane’s impact. The rating system provides examples of the types of damage associated with each wind intensity (from minor damage for Category 1 storms to catastrophic damage for Categories 4 and 5), but doesn’t measure the likelihood of dangerous storm surges, floods, or tornados.
So, different hurricane category designations won’t tell you anything about the torrential rains and twisters that might accompany hurricanes, but they will give you a good idea of how strong a hurricane is and what kind of threat it presents.
To be able to understand the risks, you need to know exactly what the different categories mean.
The Different Hurricane Categories Explained
Here is a breakdown of the different hurricane categories and the damage potential associated with each of them:
In a Category 1 hurricane, winds range from 74 to 95 mph and cause minor damage:
- Minor roof, gutter, and siding damage to frame homes;
- Snapped tree branches and uprooted small trees;
- Downed power lines and power poles that could result in short-term power outages;
- Injuries to people, livestock, and pets due to falling debris.
The dangerous winds could also topple unanchored mobile homes, blow off poorly attached shingles, and cause coastal flooding and pier damage.
A Category 2 hurricane has sustained wind speeds of 96-100 mph. With the higher wind speeds, the threat to people and animals increases and the potential of property damage escalates. You can expect:
- Extensive damage to homes, apartment complexes, shopping centers, office buildings, mobile homes, and other free-standing structures (major roof and siding damage, shattered windows, broken doors, etc.);
- Many snapped or uprooted trees and blocked roads;
- Extensive power outages that can last from a few days to a few weeks;
- Flooding in low-lying areas.
There is also a bigger risk of injury to people, livestock, and pets from flying debris during a Category 2 hurricane.
With winds ranging between 111 and 129 miles per hour, Category 3 hurricanes cause major property damage and pose a significant threat to people and animals:
- Considerable structural damage to homes, apartments, and industrial buildings;
- Destroyed mobile homes and poorly-constructed frame homes;
- Fallen trees and downed power poles and power lines;
- Near-total power loss for up to several weeks after the storm. Potable water may also be unavailable or contaminated during that period;
- Extensive inland flooding;
- Blocked roads and isolated areas;
- A high risk of injury or death from flying or falling debris.
During a Category 4 hurricane, winds range from 130 to 156 mph. At these speeds, falling and flying debris pose a very high risk of injury or death to people, pets, and livestock. The damage from this category of hurricane can be devastating:
- Severe structural damage to residential and commercial buildings – even homes built to withstand hurricane-force winds will sustain significant roof damage;
- Collapsed mobile homes, manufactured homes, and other poorly-built structures;
- Blown out windows on high-rise buildings and heavy damage to upper floors;
- Irreparable damage to overhang structures;
- Snapped or uprooted trees (except for the strongest ones) and downed power poles;
- Long-term power outages and water shortages that can last for weeks or even months after the storm passes;
- Massive flooding;
- Lots of blocked roads and isolated areas.
After a Category 4 hurricane, most of the affected area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
A Category 5 hurricane – the highest category hurricane – has a maximum sustained wind speed of 157 mph or higher. It may cause catastrophic damage and significant life loss:
- People and animals will be in great danger from flying debris and collapsing structures;
- Most buildings will be completely destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse;
- Virtually all trees will be uprooted and all power poles and power lines in the area will be ruined;
- Power loss and water shortage may last for months;
- Severe flooding can develop in minutes.
Almost everything in the storm’s path will be destroyed and the affected area will be uninhabitable for several months.
Now that you have a general understanding of what the different hurricane categories mean, you’ll know what to do and how to prepare for the oncoming storm when a hurricane watch or warning is issued in your area (have emergency supplies at hand, secure outside objects, protect windows with plywood boards or storm shutters, monitor Weather and Civil Service Bulletins, stay in a secure room or evacuate immediately, etc.).
If your home is damaged by a hurricane – regardless of its category – it’s crucial to call experienced storm damage repair professionals without delay. The experts will help you restore your property and get your life back on track as soon as possible after the disaster.
ServiceMaster Restoration & Cleaning provides hurricane and tornado damage repair services in Houston, TX to help homes and businesses recover quickly and efficiently after a storm. We offer water extraction and debris removal, board ups and tarping, reconstruction and structural repairs, and any other necessary disaster restoration services to “undo” the impact of a hurricane and restore your life back to normal. You can reach us at (800) 303-5844, 24/7, for emergency restoration services in the Houston, TX area.