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Subject: D1) How are Atlantic hurricanes ranked?

Contributed by Chris Landsea (NHC)

The USA utilizes the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale (Simpson and Riehl 1981) for the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins to give an estimate of the potential flooding and damage to property given a hurricane's estimated intensity:

Saffir-Simpson Scale
Saffir-Simpson
Category
Maximum sustained wind speed
mphm/s kts
1 74-95 33-42 64-82
2 96-110 43-49 83-95
3 111-129 50-58 96-112
4 130-156 59-69 113-136
5 ≥157 ≥70 ≥137

Note : Classification by central pressure was ended in the 1990s, and wind speed alone is now used. Surge values are no longer referenced in this scale. The actual storm surge experienced will depend on offshore bathymetery and onshore terrain and construction. A minor modification was made to the limits of Categories 3, 4, and 5 on May 15, 2012 to resolve rounding errors.

Damage
CategoryLevelDescriptionExample
1 MINIMAL Hurricane Dolly (2008) People, livestock, and pets struck by flying or falling debris could be injured or killed. Older (mainly pre-1994 construction) mobile homes could be destroyed , especially if they are not anchored properly as they tend to shift or roll off their foundations. Newer mobile homes that are anchored properly can sustain damage involving the removal of shingle or metal roof coverings, and loss of vinyl siding, as well as damage to carports, sunrooms, or lanais. Some poorly constructed frame homes can experience major damage, involving loss of the roof covering and damage to gable ends as well as the removal of porch coverings and awnings. Unprotected windows may break if struck by flying debris. Masonry chimneys can be toppled. Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof shingles, vinyl siding, soffit panels, and gutters. Failure of aluminum, screened-in, swimming pool enclosures can occur. Some apartment building and shopping center roof coverings could be partially removed. Industrial buildings can lose roofing and siding especially from windward corners, rakes, and eaves. Failures to overhead doors and unprotected windows will be common. Windows in high-rise buildings can be broken by flying debris. Falling and broken glass will pose a significant danger even after the storm. There will be occasional damage to commercial signage, fences, and canopies. Large branches of trees will snap and shallow rooted trees can be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles will likely result in power outages that could last a few to several days.
2 MODERATE Hurricane Frances (2004) There is a substantial risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris. Older (mainly pre-1994 construction) mobile homes have a very high chance of being destroyed and the flying debris generated can shred nearby mobile homes. Newer mobile homes can also be destroyed. Poorly constructed frame homes have a high chance of having their roof structures removed especially if they are not anchored properly. Unprotected windows will have a high probability of being broken by flying debris. Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage . Failure of aluminum, screened-in, swimming pool enclosures will be common. There will be a substantial percentage of roof and siding damage to apartment buildings and industrial buildings. Unreinforced masonry walls can collapse. Windows in high-rise buildings can be broken by flying debris. Falling and broken glass will pose a significant danger even after the storm. Commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be damaged and often destroyed. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks. Potable water could become scarce as filtration systems begin to fail.
3 EXTENSIVE Hurricane Ivan (2004) There is a high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris. Nearly all older (pre-1994) mobile homes will be destroyed. Most newer mobile homes will sustain severe damage with potential for complete roof failure and wall collapse. Poorly constructed frame homes can be destroyed by the removal of the roof and exterior walls. Unprotected windows will be broken by flying debris. Well-built frame homes can experience major damage involving the removal of roof decking and gable ends. There will be a high percentage of roof covering and siding damage to apartment buildings and industrial buildings. Isolated structural damage to wood or steel framing can occur. Complete failure of older metal buildings is possible, and older unreinforced masonry buildings can collapse. Numerous windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings resulting in falling glass, which will pose a threat for days to weeks after the storm. Most commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be destroyed. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to a few weeks after the storm passes.
4 EXTREME Hurricane Charley (2004) There is a very high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris. Nearly all older (pre-1994) mobile homes will be destroyed. A high percentage of newer mobile homes also will be destroyed. Poorly constructed homes can sustain complete collapse of all walls as well as the loss of the roof structure. Well-built homes also can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Extensive damage to roof coverings, windows, and doors will occur. Large amounts of windborne debris will be lofted into the air. Windborne debris damage will break most unprotected windows and penetrate some protected windows. There will be a high percentage of structural damage to the top floors of apartment buildings. Steel frames in older industrial buildings can collapse. There will be a high percentage of collapse to older unreinforced masonry buildings. Most windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings resulting in falling glass, which will pose a threat for days to weeks after the storm. Nearly all commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be destroyed. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months . Long-term water shortages will increase human suffering. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.
5 CATASTROPHIC Hurricane Andrew (1992) People, livestock, and pets are at very high risk of injury or death from flying or falling debris, even if indoors in mobile homes or framed homes. Almost complete destruction of all mobile homes will occur, regardless of age or construction. A high percentage of frame homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Extensive damage to roof covers, windows, and doors will occur. Large amounts of windborne debris will be lofted into the air. Windborne debris damage will occur to nearly all unprotected windows and many protected windows. Significant damage to wood roof commercial buildings will occur due to loss of roof sheathing. Complete collapse of many older metal buildings can occur. Most unreinforced masonry walls will fail which can lead to the collapse of the buildings. A high percentage of industrial buildings and low-rise apartment buildings will be destroyed. Nearly all windows will be blown out of high-rise buildings resulting in falling glass, which will pose a threat for days to weeks after the storm. Nearly all commercial signage, fences, and canopies will be destroyed. Nearly all trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Long-term water shortages will increase human suffering. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Note that tropical storms are not on this scale, but can produce extensive damage with rainfall-produced flooding. Note also that category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes are collectively referred to as major (or intense) hurricanes. These major hurricanes cause over 83% of the damage in the USA even though they account for only 21% of tropical cyclone landfalls

(Landsea 1993).

Last Modified : May 12, 2012

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