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How dangerous is a hurricane? Understanding hurricane categories


Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean begins June 1 and ends Nov. 30, and residents in a storm's path should become familiar with hurricane categories in order to better protect themselves.

The National Hurricane Center uses the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale to measure a storm's strength and potential destruction. The scale analyzes a hurricane's wind speed and assigns it a 1 to 5 rating.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The categories for the hurricanes listed below are determined by the storm's strength when it made landfall in the U.S., according to the National Hurricane Center.

Tropical Storm — Winds 39-73 mph 

Category 1 Hurricane — winds 74-95 mph (64-82 kt) 

Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days. 

- Examples: Irene 1999 and Allison 1995

Category 2 Hurricane — winds 96-110 mph (83-95 kt) 

Well-constructed frame homes could receive major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected, with outages that could last from several days to weeks. 

- Examples: Bonnie 1998, Georges (FL & LA) 1998 and Gloria 1985

Category 3 Hurricane — winds 111-129 mph (96-112 kt) 

Well-built frame homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

- Examples: Katrina (LA) 2005, Keith 2000, Fran 1996, Opal 1995, Alicia 1983 and Betsy 1965

Category 4 Hurricane — winds 130-156 mph (113-136 kt) 

Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

- Examples: Andrew (FL) 1992, Hugo 1989 and Donna 1960

Category 5 Hurricane — winds 157 mph and up (137+ kt) 

A high percentage of frame homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

- Examples: Camille 1969 and Labor Day storm 1935


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