Hurricane Categories and Related Damage November 28, 2017 – Posted in: Blog

Everyone knows hurricanes are among the most powerful storms experienced on earth. We’ve all seen videos of weather forecasters leaning into the wind, and we’ve all seen images of the post-hurricane damage. But what makes a hurricane a hurricane? And how are hurricane categories settled upon? If you’ve ever wondered about hurricanes and their characteristics, here’s a look at hurricane damage by category.

Hurricane Categories Explained

Hurricanes are categorized using the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which rates hurricanes from 1 to 5 — all based on the “sustained wind speed” that a hurricane brings. Here are the 5 categories, including their sustained wind speeds and the damage they’re likely to create:

  • Category 1: Category 1 hurricanes feature sustained winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour. These hurricanes are dangerous and could produce some damage to roofs, shingles, siding and gutters. Large trees and branches may snap and topple, and power lines and electric grids may also experience damage. In 1985, Hurricane Danny made landfall in Lake Charles, LA, which led to tornado outbreaks and flash flooding that caused about $100 million damage.
  • Category 2: Category 2 hurricanes feature sustained winds between 96 and 110 miles per hour. Again, these hurricanes are dangerous and will produce some damage, though loss of life and severe damage is usually limited. In 1995, Hurricane Erin hit Florida’s panhandle as a Category 2 hurricane, where it damaged ships, crops and trees, causing about $700 million in overall damage.
  • Category 3: Category 3 hurricanes are the first of the “major” hurricanes, with sustained wind speeds between 111 and 129 miles per hour. Roofs may fly off homes entirely, and trees may be uprooted. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane when it struck New Orleans in 2005. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, and damages totaled $81 billion.
  • Category 3: Category 3 hurricanes are the first of the “major” hurricanes, with sustained wind speeds between 111 and 129 miles per hour. Roofs may fly off homes entirely, and trees may be uprooted. Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 hurricane when it struck New Orleans in 2005. Nearly 2,000 people were killed, and damages totaled $81 billion.
  • Category 5: Category 5 hurricanes and their winds of 157 miles per hour or more will destroy a large percentage of homes in the areas where they land. Power outages are lengthy, and the area can’t be inhabited for months afterward in many cases. Hurricane Andrew was a Category 5 storm when it struck South Florida in 1992, leaving 54 dead and rendering $26.5 billion in damage. The area was largely evacuated before the hurricane hit, which prevented greater loss of life.

As you can tell from the loss of life and damage statistics above, there’s no direct correlation between higher sustained winds and greater damage. It also matters how many people live in an area that is struck, as well as how many people are still in the area before the hurricane hits.

For example, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 was far deadlier than Hurricane Andrew in 1992 simply because, with Hurricane Andrew, South Florida had forewarning and was able to evacuate before the storm hit. Also, Hurricane Katrina was far costlier to repair than Hurricane Andrew because of the unique characteristics of the area where it made landfall.

Hurricane categories can provide a rough estimate of how much damage and loss of life to expect, but it will vary based on the specific areas where hurricanes hit.