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About The Saffir-Simpson Scale

April 24, 2008

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, Mike Hollen

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Similar to how the Fujita scale categorizes tornadoes; the Saffir-Simpson Scale categorizes hurricanes by current winds and even the expected storm surge.

It was developed in the late 1960s by Herbert Saffir to help the public gauge the expected damage from any hurricane at landfall. In the early 1970s, Robert Simpson, then the National Hurricane Center`s director, added to and refined the scale that Saffir created a few years earlier.

Storm surge is technically part of the scale, but since the exact height of the surge is difficult to predict, the peak sustained one-minute winds in a hurricane are the determining factor, while the storm surge is more of a guideline.

Category One

Winds 74-95 mph (64-82 kt or 119-153 km/hr). The storm surge is about 4-5 feet above normal. Most damage is limited to unanchored objects (mobile homes, traffic lights, signs, etc.), trees and bushes. Coastal flooding is minimal with some minor pier damage.

Category Two

Winds 96-110 mph (83-95 kt or 154-177 km/hr). The storm surge is about 6-8 feet above normal. Flooding begins 2-4 hours before the hurricane`s landfall with moderate pier damage. Large trees are blown over. There is significant damage to unanchored buildings, while small boats may break free.

Category Three

Winds 111-130 mph (96-113 kt or 178-209 km/hr). Storm surge is 9-12 feet above normal. Mobile homes and other unanchored buildings are destroyed. Small structures sustain moderate damage. Large trees and bushes are blown over. Significant coastal flooding occurs 3-5 hours before landfall. Small buildings are destroyed by flooding and larger buildings are damaged from floating debris. Residents within a few blocks of the coastline should evacuate.

Category Four

Winds 131-155 mph (114-135 kt or 210-249 km/hr). Storm surge is 13-18 feet above normal. Small structures sustain major damage, while larger structures sustain moderate damage. Mobile homes are completely destroyed. Roofs are blown off homes, while signs, trees and bushes are all blown over. Flooding occurs 3-5 hours before the storm. Major flood damage done to lower floors of coastal buildings. Piers are destroyed. Small boats are moderately damaged. Any areas lower than 10 feet above sea level within six miles of the coast should evacuate.

Category Five

Winds greater than 155 mph (135 kt or 249 km/hr). Storm surge is greater than 18 feet above normal. Small structures are blown over, and many roofs are blown off and away. Mobile homes are completely destroyed. All trees, signs, and bushes are blown over and away. Flooding occurs 3-5 hours before the storm makes landfall. Major damage done to lower floors of all coastal buildings. Piers are destroyed. Small boats are destroyed. Residents within 5-10 miles of the coastline should evacuate.

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