Hurricane Category Chart

This hurricane category chart is the official Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale used by agencies to indicate the strength of a tropical cyclone. It tells you what is a hurricane and the potential damage it can cause.

Even if you don't live along the coast, you've more than likely seen some of that damage, or at least a dramatic display of wind and rain on the Weather Channel. Each hurricane season, the weather folks gear up for storm chasing, sending their people literally into the eye of the storm if necessary. They do a tremendous service in letting us know what's happening, but I have to admit, in Northwest Florida, much as we love the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore, we really don’t like to see him on our beaches - unless he’s here unofficially, of course.

Hugo, a hurricane category 4 struck the coast of South Carolina in September 1989

What is a Hurricane?

According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), hurricane is the regional term we apply to a tropical cyclone, which is a low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters with organized thunderstorm activity and definite surface wind circulation (the counter clockwise turn). Typhoon means the same thing and is used primarily in the eastern Pacific.

tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 mph is usually called a "tropical depression" ”(This is not to be confused with the condition mid-latitude people get during a long, cold and grey winter wishing they could be closer to the equator ;-)).” Some NOAA humor I couldn’t resist passing along.

tropical storm is designated when maximum sustained winds are between 39 and 73 miles per hour.

Below is the hurricane category chart used by official agencies to indicate the strength of a storm. Storms are categorized with damage projections courtesy of NOAA and Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Tropical storm Debby in June 2012

Debby in June 2012 was a far-reaching, rain-drenching tropical storm with maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour. 

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Category Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. A hurricanes category 3 and higher is considered a major hurricane because of the potential for significant loss of life and damage. Tidal surges indicated are estimates.

Category 1 – wind speed 74 to 95 mph, tidal surge of 4 to 5 feet

Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.

Category 2 – wind speed 96 to 110 mph, tidal surge 6 to 8 feet

Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. 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.

Category 3 – wind speed 111 to 129, tidal surge 9 to 12 feet

Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Category 4 – wind speed 130 to 156 mph, tidal surge 13 to 18 feet

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. 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.

Category 5 – wind speed 157 mph and higher, tidal surge 18 feet and 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.

Waves pound the beach during Tropical Storm Debby.

When Tropical Storm Debby hit the coast here in South Walton, it wasn't even a hurricane, but the normally placid and colorful Gulf waters were turned a murky and violent grey. Waves were high and beach erosion occurred. So remember, no matter what the official hurricane category is, you can be sure that any storm is going to create damage.

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