The Experimental Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

Although there are currently no tropical cyclones in the Atlantic, I’d like to talk about the National Hurricane Center’s (NHC) Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale that has been used to categorize the intensity of hurricanes since 1971.  This scale was originally based on wind speeds and was never intended to apply to all the hazards of a hurricane.  There is simply no one-to-one correlation between wind speed and storm surge or central pressure or rainfall or tornadoes.

This year, the NHC has started the process to make a modification to the scale.  The name has been slightly changed to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane WIND Scale to make it absolutely clear that it is the wind – and wind alone – that determines the category. The descriptions of damage associated with each category have also been updated.  These changes to the scale are experimental this year, but will likely become permanent in 2010.

The category is important because, in general, damages rise by about a factor of four for every category increase.

SAFFIR SIMPSON HURRICANE WIND SCALE (EXPERIMENTAL)

CATEGORY

MAXIMUM SUSTAINED SURFACE WIND SPEED (MPH)

EXAMPLES

1

74 to 95

Hurricane Cindy (2005, landfall in LA)

2

96 to 110

Hurricane Isabel (2003, landfall in NC)

3

111 to 130

Hurricane Rita (2005, landfall near TX/LA border

4

131 to 155

Hurricane Charley (2004, landfall in Southwest FL

5

Greater than 155

Hurricane Andrew (1992, landfall in Southeast FL

NHC’s complete description of the experimental Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale can be found at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/aboutsshs.shtml.

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