Hurricane Category Definitions: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

••• Artist's rendering of a satellite image of a tropical hurricane in the Atlantic. © NOAA

Though hurricanes are not as common in the Caribbean as many people think, they do hit land a few times a year, and those traveling during the hurricane high season should be educated on what to expect from different hurricanes – ranging from Category 1 to Category 5-strength according to the Saffir-Simpson Scale. 

What what is the Saffir-Simpson Scale, and what do these categories mean?

Definition: The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 categorization based on a hurricane's intensity and wind.

The scale – originally developed by wind engineer Herb Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson - is used by the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center and is the globally accepted standard for measuring the strength of tropical cyclones (hurricanes). 

The scale includes:

  • Category One Hurricane (Sustained winds 74-95 mph, 64-82 kt, or 119-153 km/hr): Very dangerous winds will produce some damage, including minor damage to exterior of homes, toppled tree branches, uprooting of smaller trees, extensive damage to power lines, and power outages.
  • Category Two Hurricane (Sustained winds 96-110 mph, 83-95 kt, or 154-177 km/hr): Has extremely dangerous winds that will cause extensive damage, including major damage to exterior of homes, uprooting of small trees and blocked roads blocked, and guaranteed power outages for long periods of time -- days to weeks
  • Category Three Hurricane (Sustained winds 111-130 mph, 96-113 kt, or 178-209 km/hr): Devastating damage will occur with such storms, including extensive damage to exterior of homes, many trees uprooted and many roads blocked, and extremely limited availability of water and electricity
  • Category Four Hurricane (Sustained winds 131-155 mph, 114-135 kt, or 210-249 km/hr): These powerful storms can cause catastrophic damage, including loss of roof structure and/or some exterior walls, most trees uprooted and most power lines down, isolated residential access due to debris pile up, and power outages lasting for weeks to months
  • Category Five Hurricane (Sustained winds greater than 155 mph, greater than 135 kt, or greater than 249 km/hr): Catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of homes will be destroyed, fallen trees and power lines will isolate residential areas, power outages will last for weeks to months, and most areas will be uninhabitable.

For a more detailed explanation of the scale, see the National Hurricane Center website.

Examples:

The Category 1 Hurricane Danny hit Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1985 and developed from tropical storm, to Cat 1 hurricane, then back to tropical storm. 

The Category 2 Hurricane Erin hit the Atlantic coast of Florida in 1995 causing flooding, downed trees, and a plane crash once it hit Jamaica. 

The Category 3 Hurricane Katrina famously hit Louisiana in 2005 causing extensive damage, especially that caused by the breaking of the levee system in New Orleans. It was the deadliest hurricane in the U.S. since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. 

The Category 4 Great Galveston Hurricane struck Galveston, Texas in 1900 and included powerful winds and a 15-foot storm surge that destroyed homes and buildings. 

The Category 5 Hurricane Andrew wreaked devastating damage across south Florida in 1992.

 

Caribbean Travel During Hurricane Season

For more information on travel to the Caribbean as it relates to hurricanes, check out our guide to myths and truths about hurricanes in the Caribbean. 

When booking Caribbean travel, keep in mind that certain islands are more susceptible to being hit by storms than others -- Bermuda and the Bahamas hang out at the top of the likely suspects, while the southernmost islands of the Caribbean – Aruba, Barbados, Curacao, etc. – and the Western Caribbean are less likely to be hit than the Eastern islands. 

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