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Hurricane Category Definitions: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

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Hurricane Category Definitions: The Saffir-Simpson Scale

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

© NOAA
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 5 Hurricane Andrew wreaked devastating damage across south Florida in 1992.
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