Hurricanes are one of nature's fiercest and potentially most devastating forces. They can be fickle, and their paths and intensity can be uncertain and unpredictable at times. In spite of all of this uncertainty and unpredictability, it is necessary to find some means by which to alert the public as to the potential for a storm, the intensity with which it may make landfall, and the extent of damage that the storm may inflict on any given place. To that end, Dr. Herbert Saffir, a consulting engineer and Dr. Bob Simpson, the former director of the National Hurricane Center created a scale in 1969.
The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale, as it came to be known, was adopted by the National Hurricane Center in 1972 as a way to show hurricane intensity and potential damage that various structures, vegetation and utility systems might sustain as a result of the storm. It is important to note, however, that just because a tropical storm hasn't developed hurricane force winds, that doesn't necessarily mean that the storm can't still inflict damage. Tropical storms can inflict significant damage - especially in areas that haven't had or taken the time to prepare.
*Saffir-Simpson Five Categories -
The scale has been renamed the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, and it puts hurricanes into five categories based primarily on sustained wind speeds for longer than one minute. The categories show the range of wind speeds and the potential damage that those wind speeds may inflict.
*Category 1 - sustained wind speeds of 74-95 miles per hour.
*Category 2 - sustained wind speeds ranging from 96 to 110 miles per hour.
*Category 3 - sustained wind speeds starting at 111 and extending to 130 miles per hour.
*Category 4 - sustained wind speeds starting at 131 and extending to 155 miles per hour.
*Category 5 - sustained wind speeds in excess of 156 miles per hour.
*Range of damages -
There is no question that hurricanes can inflict a huge amount of damage to property and to lives. Regardless of the category, it is safe to say that in any type of hurricane, livestock, people and pets who are left outside may suffer serious if not deadly injuries from any category storm. Hurricane force winds will almost certainly destroy poorly constructed buildings and older mobile homes, especially those constructed before 1994. Small or light weight objects that are left outdoors will become flying projectiles capable of breaking unprotected windows and damaging other property, or worse, killing any living being.
*Disruption of utilities -
For all hurricane categories, there is always the possibility that basic utility services may be seriously disrupted because heavily damaged or uprooted trees will topple utility lines and poles and turn over towers. Downed utility wires that come into contact with water have the potential to start fires. Even underground utility lines can burst because of uprooted trees.
The purpose of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is to give meteorologists an indication of what to tell the general public. Local civil service authorities may use the information in deciding whether or not to issue mandatory evacuation orders and/or open emergency shelters. It is also intended to advise people as to the extent to which they need to board up and protect their homes in order to minimize the extent of damage they sustain.
As helpful as the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale can be, it no longer advises people as to the potential storm surge or the extent of flooding that different areas may receive. There is no way of knowing exactly how much rain a hurricane will dump on any area, how long the storm will last and whether it will fizzle out or enter warm waters again and intensify before making a second landfall and inflicting even more damage.
National Climate Data Center: The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale -
NOAA - The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale -
National Hurricane Center: Hurricane Preparedness - High Winds -
NHC - The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale Summary Table -