Hurricane Categories 1 Through 5

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A major storm can ruin your vacation plans, which is why experts recommend taking extra precautions when planning a trip during hurricane season.

Hurricane Season

The Atlantic hurricane season is six months long, running from June 1 to November 30, with the peak period from early August through the end of October. Hurricanes tend to happen in states that lie along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as Mexico and the Caribbean.

Concerned about traveling to these destinations during hurricane season? Statistically, there is a very low risk that a storm will impact your vacation. A typical hurricane season will bring 12 tropical storms with sustained winds of 39 mph, of which six will turn into hurricanes and three become major hurricanes in Category 3 or higher.

Tropical Storms vs. Hurricanes

Tropical Depression: Wind Speed below 39 mph. When a low-pressure area accompanied by thunderstorms produces a circular wind flow with winds below 39 mph. Most tropical depressions have maximum sustained winds between 25 and 35 mph.

Tropical Storm: Wind Speed of 39 to 73 mph. When storms have wind speeds over 39 mph, they are then named. 

Hurricane Categories 1 Through 5

When a storm registers sustained winds of at least 74 miles per hour, it is classified as a hurricane. This is a massive storm system that forms over water and moves toward land.

The main threats from hurricanes include high winds, heavy rainfall, and flooding in coastal and inland areas. 

In other parts of the world, these large storms are called typhoons and cyclones.

Hurricanes are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 using the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS). Category 1 and 2 hurricanes can cause damage and injuries to people and animals.

With wind speeds of 111 miles per hour or higher, Category 3, 4, and 5 hurricanes are considered major storms.

Category 1: Wind Speed of 74 to 95 mph. Expect minor damage to property due to flying debris. Generally, during a Category 1 storm, most glass windows will remain intact. There may be short-term power outages due to snapped power lines or fallen trees.

Category 2: Wind Speed of 96 to 110 mph. Expect more extensive property damage, including potential damage to roofing, siding, and glass windows. Flooding can be a major danger in the low-lying areas. Expect widespread power outages that may continue for a few days to a few weeks.

Category 3: Wind Speed of 111 to 130 mph. Expect significant property damage. Mobile and poorly constructed frame homes may be destroyed, and even well-built frame homes may sustain major damage. Extensive inland flooding often comes with a Category 3 storm. Power outages and water shortages can be expected after a storm of this magnitude.

Category 4: Wind Speed of 131 to 155 mph. Expect some catastrophic damage to property, including mobile homes and frame homes. Category 4 hurricanes often bring flooding and long-term power outages and water shortages.

Category 5: Wind Speed over 156 mph. The area will certainly be under an evacuation order. Expect catastrophic damage to property, humans, and animals and complete destruction of mobile homes, frame homes. Nearly all the trees in the area will be uprooted. Category 5 hurricanes bring long-term power outages and water shortages, and regions may be inhabitable for weeks or months.

Tracking and Evacuation

Thankfully, hurricanes can be detected and tracked well in advance of making landfall. People who are in the storm’s path often get several days of advance notice.

When a hurricane threatens your area, it's important to stay aware of weather forecasts, either on TV, the radio or with a hurricane warning app. Heed evacuation orders. If you are staying in a coastal area or an area with low-lying grounds, keep in mind that a major danger is localized flooding.

Edited by Suzanne Rowan Kelleher