NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is one of the best and most trusted sources of information about hurricanes and other weather phenomena.
In addition to providing those amazing hurricane tracking graphics (you know, the ones with the 5-day cone of probability), they also provide a wide range of hurricane, weather, and atmospheric related resources that are available to the public.
One of the most useful resources, at least for those of us who live in Florida, that they provide is their document explaining the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
This scale is used by meteorologists to indicate the strength of an oncoming hurricane and uses five different levels, or categories, to help people quickly and easily understand the potential impact that the storm will have.
Below we have republished this resource, as well as providing a link to download the official NOAA version.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 categorization based on the hurricane’s intensity at the indicated time. The scale – originally developed by wind engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson – has been an excellent tool for alerting the public about the possible impacts of various intensity hurricanes. The scale provides examples of the type of damage and impacts in the United States associated with winds of the indicated intensity. In general, damage rises by about a factor of four for every category increase. The maximum sustained surface wind speed (peak 1-minute wind at the standard meteorological observation height of 10 m [33 ft] over unobstructed exposure) associated with the cyclone is the determining factor in the scale. (Note that sustained winds can be stronger in hilly or mountainous terrain – such as the over the Appalachians or over much of Puerto Rico – compared with that experienced over flat terrain.) The historical examples provided in each of the categories correspond with the observed or estimated maximum wind speeds from the hurricane experienced at the location indicated. These do not necessarily correspond with the peak intensity reached by the system during its lifetime. It is also important to note that peak 1-minute winds in hurricanes are believed to diminish by one category within a short distance, perhaps a kilometer [~ half a mile] of the coastline. For example, Hurricane Wilma made landfall in 2005 in southwest Florida as a Category 3 hurricane. Even though this hurricane only took four hours to traverse the peninsula, the winds experienced by most Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County communities were Category 1 to Category 2 conditions. However, exceptions to this generalization are certainly possible.
The scale does not address the potential for other hurricane-related impacts, such as storm surge, rainfall-induced floods, and tornadoes. It should also be noted that these wind-caused damage general descriptions are to some degree dependent upon the local building codes in effect and how well and how long they have been enforced. For example, building codes enacted during the 2000s in Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina are likely to reduce the damage to newer structures from that described below. However, for a long time to come, the majority of the building stock in existence on the coast will not have been built to higher code. Hurricane wind damage is also very dependent upon other factors, such as duration of high winds, change of wind direction, and age of structures.
Earlier versions of this scale – known as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale – incorporated central pressure and storm surge as components of the categories. The central pressure was used during the 1970s and 1980s as a proxy for the winds as accurate wind speed intensity measurements from aircraft reconnaissance were not routinely available for hurricanes until 1990. Storm surge was also quantified by category in the earliest published versions of the scale dating back to 1972. However, hurricane size (extent of hurricane-force winds), local bathymetry (depth of near-shore waters), topography, the hurricane’s forward speed, and angle to the coast also affect the surge that is produced7,8. For example, the very large Hurricane Ike (with hurricane-force winds extending as much as 125 miles from the center) in 2008 made landfall in Texas as a Category 2 hurricane and had peak storm surge values of about 20 ft. In contrast, tiny Hurricane Charley (with hurricane-force winds extending at most 25 mi from the center) struck Florida in 2004 as a Category 4 hurricane and produced a peak storm surge of only about 7 ft. These storm surge values were substantially outside of the ranges suggested in the original scale. Thus to help reduce public confusion about the impacts associated with the various hurricane categories as well as to provide a more scientifically defensible scale, the storm surge ranges, flooding impact and central pressure statements are being removed from the scale and only peak winds are employed in this revised version – the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. (The impact statements below were derived from recommendations graciously provided by experts [Bruce Harper, Forrest Masters, Mark Powell, Tim Marshall, Tim Reinhold, and Peter Vickery] in hurricane boundary layer winds and hurricane wind engineering fields.)
Category One Hurricane (Sustained winds 74-95 mph, 64-82 kt, or 119-153 km/h).
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage 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 buildings 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. Hurricane Dolly (2008) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 1 winds and impacts to South Padre Island, Texas. Hurricane Dot Iwa (passing just northwest of Kauai in 1982) and Hurricane Dot (landfall on Kauai in 1959) are examples of Category 1 hurricanes that directly impacted Hawaii.
Category Two Hurricane (Sustained winds 96-110 mph, 83-95 kt, or 154-177 km/h).
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage 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. Hurricane Frances (2004) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 2 winds and impacts to coastal portions of Port St. Lucie, Florida with Category 1 conditions experienced elsewhere in the city.
Category Three Hurricane (Sustained winds 111-129 mph, 96-112 kt, or 178-208 km/h).
Devastating damage will occur 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 the 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. Hurricane Ivan (2004) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 3 winds and impacts to coastal portions of Gulf Shores, Alabama with Category 2 conditions experienced elsewhere in this city.
Category Four Hurricane (Sustained winds 130-156 mph, 113-136 kt, or 209-251km/h).
Catastrophic damage will occur 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. Hurricane Charley (2004) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 4 winds and impacts to coastal portions of Punta Gorda, Florida with Category 3 conditions experienced elsewhere in the city. Hurricane Iniki, which made landfall on Kauai in 1992, is an example of a Category 4 hurricane at
landfall in Hawaii.
Category Five Hurricane (Sustained winds 157 mph or higher, 137 kt or higher, or 252km/h or higher).
Catastrophic damage will occur. 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. Hurricane Andrew (1992) is an example of a hurricane that brought Category 5 winds and impacts to coastal portions of Cutler Ridge, Florida with Category 4 conditions experienced elsewhere in south Miami-Dade County.
This document was originally written by “The Saffir-Simpson Team” (Timothy Schott, Chris Landsea, Gene Hafele, Jeffrey Lorens, Arthur Taylor, Harvey Thurm, Bill Ward, Mark Willis, and Walt Zaleski) and was updated 2 January 2019 to include central North Pacific examples. To view the original article, click here.