Hurricanes are one of the largest forces of weather and nature. A hurricane begins as a tropical storm that has winds less than 74 miles per hour. The Saffir-Simson Hurricane Wind Scale measures the strength of a hurricane as it moves from a Category 1 storm up to a Category 5 storm (yes, they exist). Scientists predict that hurricanes that approach the United States will continue to grow in strength and intensity as they are meeting with warmer waters than ever before. Here is what those numbers really mean!
Category 1: Winds are 75-95 mph
This storm is capable of causing damage. Rooftops, trees, weak structures are all a concern in this storm. The storm surge that comes with this storm is likely to raise sea levels about 4 feet. This is a storm to take seriously, but most structures should stay intact. Loss of power with high winds is always possible with downed tree limbs.
How to Prepare: Have a safety kit, some extra water and don’t travel. Secure anything outdoors that can easily be blown away.
Category 2: Winds are 96-110 mph
This is a damaging storm. Power loss is eminent in most locations because trees that are weak or smaller will snap under these sustained winds. Well maintained homes should not sustain too much wind damage but many will see widespread damage. The storm surge from this level storm can be up to 6 feet which can cause flodding.
How to prepare: Always cut limbs that look weak before Hurricane season. Be sure the shingles on the roof are secure. Have emergency supplies and flashlights.
Category 3: Winds are 111-129 mph
This storm borders on catastrophic. Homes will definitely be damaged. Trees will be down. Power will be out and drinking water will be compromised. People who live in low lying areas must evacuate in this type of storm with a surge over 9 feet. People will likely be evacuated who are in the direct path of this storm. Those who stay should prepare for days without fresh water or power.
How to prepare: Board up windows, stockpile water and supplies. Evacuate when necessary.
Historic Category 3: “The Perfect Storm” was based on a Category 3 known as the 1938 Great Long Island/New England Storm. It killed 600 people.
Category 4: Winds are 130-155 mph
This storm will make an area uninhabitable for weeks to possibly months. It can damage homes to the point of total destruction. Trees can easily uproot with these winds. This is a catastrophic and very dangerous storm. Regions hit by this type of storm should evacuate out of the path of the storm. Storm surges can be as high as 13 feet. Flooding is likely long after the storm passes.
How to prepare: Prepare to evacuate or at minimum find a shelter to house you that is sturdy enough to keep you safe.
Historic Category 4: Hurricane Charley hit Florida as a Category 4 hurricane in 2004 causing over 11 billion dollars in damage to the Sunshine state.
Category 5: 157 mph and above
This is a storm that will flatten an area. Homes will be destroyed and are unsafe to be within during a Category 5. Roofs will collapse as well as walls. Trees, power lines and other free standing structures will be collapsed. Widespread devastation that will take months to clean up are the end result. The storm surge can reach a shocking 18 feet or more. Serious flooding is eminent.
How to prepare: Individuals in the path of a Category 5 hurricane must evacuate to safety to prevent the loss of life.
Historic Category 5: Camille was one of the most infamous Category 5. Camille was so powerful that she dumped 27 inches of rain less than 1 day! Many deaths were directly related to flooding.
This author has also published work on preparing for a hurricane.