May/June 2006Measuring the Storm: The Saffir-Simpson Scaleby Marc Rapport

The Saffir-Simpson Scale ranks hurricanes by wind speed and damage potential. Herbert Saffir, an engineer in Coral Gables, Florida, and Robert Simpson, then-director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, created the scale about thirty-five years ago.

They told National Geographic that they devised the scale to help relief and public-safety agencies prepare for hurricanes and noted that it had been known mostly only by officials but is now widely known by the general public because of the increase in major storms.

Saffir told the magazine that he's "very pleased that the public is aware of the scale and can see the difference between a Category One and a Category Five storm. That's extremely important."

Hurricane Wind Speeds Barometric Pressure Storm Surge Likely Damage
Category 1 74 to 95 miles an hour (119 to 153 kilometers an hour) No lower than 28.94 inches, or 980 millibars 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.5 meters) Minimal. No significant damage to buildings. Damage will be mainly to unanchored mobile homes, trees and shrubbery. There also will be some coastal flooding and minor damage to piers.
Category 2 96 to 110 miles an hour (154 to 177 kilometers an hour) 28.50 to 28.92 inches, or 965 to 979 millibars 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) Moderate. Damage to some roofs, doors and windows. Considerable damage to trees, shrubbery and mobile homes. Some flooding damage to piers and small craft. Some small craft may break their moorings.
Category 3 111 to 130 miles an hour (179 to 209 kilometers an hour) 27.91 to 28.47 inches, or 945 to 964 millibars 9 to 12 feet (2.7 to 3.7 meters) Extensive. Some damage to small residences and utility buildings. Mobile homes destroyed. Coastal flooding destroys smaller structures, and larger structures damaged by floating debris. Flooding may occur far inland.
Category 4 131 to 155 miles an hour (211 to 249 kilometers an hour) 27.17 to 27.88 inches, or 920 to 944 millibars 13 to 18 feet (4 to 5.5 meters) Extreme. Heavy damage to many residences, with roofs completely destroyed on small residences. Major erosion of beaches. Flooding may occur far inland.
Category 5 Exceeding 155 miles an hour (249 kilometers an hour) Lower than 27.17 inches, or 920 millibars More than 18 feet (5.5 meters) Catastrophic. Roofs completely destroyed on many residences and larger buildings. Some buildings completely destroyed. Major flood damage to lower floors of buildings near the shore. Massive evacuation may be required. Flooding may occur far inland.

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