We are used to hearing about hurricanes in terms of categories, especially when we are consuming the news. But is there a real difference between these categories? Many people wonder what the categories mean and what factors they are based on.

Hurricane categories are based on the Saffir-Simpson scale and mainly on a hurricane’s wind speeds. They do not account for some other factors but are largely able to give an idea of the damage that is predicted and what needs to be done to minimize it.

When talking about to hurricane categories, many people can feel confused, as what they really want to know is what to expect regarding wind, water, and damage. While categories can’t answer it all, they can still tell us a lot about how a hurricane will behave, so let’s learn more!

What Are Categories Based On?

Hurricane categories are derived from the Saffir-Simpson scale, which has a total of five categories. The scale was created by an engineer and a meteorologist as far back as 1972. 

While there have been changes made to the scale to adapt to our current knowledge and adaptations, it is still an essential tool for measuring hurricane categories.

One significant distinction to make with this scale is what it essentially measures: the speed of winds in the hurricane. 

However, this scale does not measure other factors, such as any following storms, floods, or tornadoes that can become part of this larger event. That being said, it is still an effective method to tell you about what to expect from the hurricane in general.

The Different Categories Of Hurricanes

Let’s take a look at each of the five categories and what they indicate. Along with this, we will also discuss what people can expect with such a hurricane and an example of such a hurricane in recent history. 

Category 1 Hurricanes

A category 1 hurricane has winds that can be in the range of 74-95 miles per hour. These include dangerous winds and a chance that there will be damage. Debris can harm people and other creatures, and mobile homes can suffer significant damage.

Windows that are protected will likely survive, and frame homes can also make it through, although there may be some damage. However, there may be damage to power lines, which can also create issues such as power outages.

An example of such a hurricane is Hurricane Sandy in 2012, although it had already been substantially weakened by the time it hit the United States.

Category 2 Hurricanes

In a category 2 hurricane, you will see 96-110 miles per hour winds. This poses much more risk, as there is a chance of extensive damage that can happen due to extremely dangerous winds. The risk of injury and death is increased for humans and living creatures.

Homes and structures can see major damage or siding issues as a result, and trees can also be uprooted, causing even more damage. There is a chance that mobile homes can be completely destroyed, and the same goes for the power structure, as there are expected serious outages.

An example of such a hurricane that happened in 2004 was Hurricane Francis, which occurred on the Floridian coast, causing significant damage.

Category 3 Hurricanes

When we talk about a category 3 hurricane, it is expected that there is a higher chance of devastation. The expected winds can range from 111-129 miles per hour, and the risk of death and injury to humans and animals will be much higher as there is more debris flying around.

Mobile homes are expected to be destroyed due to the high winds, and there is a chance that well-built homes may face major damage, primarily because of the risk of trees being uprooted and flying around, crashing into structures. 

It is likely that a storm like this would have a significant impact on the supply of electricity and water, with outages lasting for a few weeks.

One of the most well-known examples of this is Hurricane Katrina, which hit Louisiana in 2005. In fact, it started out as a category 5 hurricane before it hit the land.

Category 4 Hurricanes

When we are talking about a category 4 hurricane, we are talking about a catastrophic level of damage that can occur. The winds, in this case, can range between 130-156 miles per hour, which makes it a major risk for any living creature, including humans and pets.

This type of hurricane can wipe out mobile homes and even impact homes built with frames – you may end up with collapsing homes and, in some cases, see damage such as severe roof issues, completely wiped-out upper floors, windows blown out, and trees flying everywhere.

A hurricane like this can severely impact the area’s power and water lines, completely cutting off supply and creating uninhabitable conditions for the area, which is likely to remain the case for the next few weeks, and in some cases, even for months ahead.

One example of a hurricane like this is Hurricane Harvey, which hit in 2017 over the area of Texas. It caused a catastrophic flood and severe damage.

Category 5 Hurricanes

The highest category of a hurricane on this scale is category 5, which is for wind speeds recorded over 157 miles per hour or anything higher than this. There is a serious risk of death or severe injury to anyone, even if they are indoors and supposedly safe.

The impact of this kind of hurricane can be at its worst level – mobile homes can be completely leveled, and even well-built homes will see destruction and, in some cases, severe damage. Windows can easily be blown out, and metal structures completely collapse.

Most of the trees in the area can be completely uprooted, and long-term issues with power and water are to be expected as a result of a hurricane of this magnitude. Although hurricanes like this are rare, they are sure to cause the most amount of damage.

An example of this is Hurricane Andrew, which struck the areas of Florida, Louisiana, and the Bahamas in 1992, devastatingly impacting the area.

Final Thoughts

It is clear that hurricanes can cause major destruction and damage, regardless of their category. However, with an understanding of what categories mean for hurricanes, you can understand how to prepare and what to expect in the aftermath. With adequate preparation and knowledge, you will be able better to protect yourself and your property during a hurricane.