As we are in the heart of Hurricane Season, it is important to understand the logistics of hurricane strength and what typically falls within the guidelines for determining the category. Originally developed by wind engineers Herb Saffir and Bob Simpson, the Saffir-Simpson wind scale is a categorization on a scale of one to five that bases hurricane intensity on maximum sustained surface wind speed. Maximum sustained surface wind is recorded when the highest wind speed at 10 meters above the surface holds for more than one minute. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale continues to be a useful tool when alerting the public on hurricane impact strength.
Wind speed plays a huge role in the strength of a hurricane for many reasons. Wind speeds within a hurricane can enhance the storms ability to destroy buildings, down trees, cause power outages, and increase the likelihood of death and injury caused by flying or falling debris. It is important to recognize that the Saffir-Simpson scale does not include other potential hurricane impacts such as storm surge, rainfall induced flooding, and tornadoes. These factors are all independent of the scale and can cause added damage and injury adjacent to impacts caused by the wind. This is why it is important to not underrate the impacts of a hurricane based solely off its category.
The scale not only gives a range of high wind speeds but also includes the potential damage and impacts on the United States infrastructure upon landfall. Each category of the Saffir-Simpson scale is characterized by a range of wind and its potential impacts to an area upon landfall. Although, the Saffir-Simpson scale is independent of certain factors such as storm surge, flooding, and tornadoes, it is dependent upon building structure, duration, and direction of strong wind when regarding possible damages. The following table below is a short summary of each category and its characteristics regarding possible damage outcome. This table as well as more information on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale can be easily searched on the National Hurricane Center website.
Regardless of the category, a hurricane can be a strong and powerful force of nature. It is important to know that the Saffir- Simpson scale is a wind-based scale focused solely on sustained surface wind strength and damage. It does not include damages that can occur from storm surge, tornadoes or rain-induced flooding. Continuing forward in this hurricane season, stay informed, keep updated on latest hurricane news and updates, and never underestimate a hurricanes true potential. Keep informed by your local news channel, weather app, and/or website. If one is expected to come your way, it is crucial to heed the warnings and evacuate when told to by your local officials.
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© Meteorologist Alex Maynard