The 5 Categories of Hurricanes

Whether or not you’ve personally experienced a hurricane, you have probably heard them classified as Category 1, 2, and so on. Hurricanes are classified according to the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale and are given a rating between 1 and 5 depending on wind speed. At their worst, Category 4 and 5 hurricanes can level entire cities. Even Category 1 hurricanes can damage homes, trees, vehicles, and power lines. There is no such thing as a “minor” hurricane.

About the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale was developed in 1971 by Herbert Saffir, a civil engineer, and Robert Simpson, who was the director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) at the time. It was originally created by Saffir while he was conducting a study of low-cost housing in hurricane-prone regions for the United Nations in 1969. As he conducted the study, Saffir realized that there was no standard system to categorize and describe the potential damage a hurricane could cause. He then created a scale based on wind speed and potential structural damage. He gave the scale to the NHC, and Simpson added the effects of storm surges and flooding.

In May 2010, the NHC modified the system, reverting it back to a purely wind-based scale. The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in use today does not measure flooding, rainfall, location, or storm surge. It instead measures “maximum sustained wind speed” during a storm. This is calculated by measuring winds at a height of 33 feet for a period of 1 minute and determining the average.

Category 1 Hurricanes (Sustained Winds of 74-95 mph)

A Category 1 hurricane will have sustained maximum winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour. These are very dangerous winds that can damage homes, typically shingles, roofs, gutters, and vinyl sidings. Trees with shallow roots may topple over, and the branches of deeply rooted trees may break or snap off. Power lines and poles are also likely to sustain significant damage, leading to power outages lasting up to several days.

Category 2 Hurricanes (Sustained Winds of 96-110 mph)

A Category 2 hurricane will have sustained maximum winds of 96 to 110 miles per hour. These winds are considered extremely dangerous and may cause major roof and siding damage to homes and other buildings. Numerous shallowly rooted trees are likely to topple over and block roads or damage homes, vehicles, and other property. Power outages are expected and may last several days or weeks.

Category 3 Hurricanes (Sustained Winds of 111-129 mph)

A Category 3 hurricane will have sustained maximum winds of 111 to 129 miles per hour. Winds like these will cause devastating damage, according to the NHC. Even well-constructed homes are likely to sustain major damage. Trees will be uprooted and snapped, blocking roads and causing further damage to vehicles, homes, and more. Loss of power and water is expected, and outages may last several days or weeks.

Category 3 hurricanes and above are considered “major hurricanes” by the NHC.

Category 4 Hurricanes (Sustained Winds of 130-156 mph)

A Category 4 hurricane will have sustained maximum winds of 130 to 156 miles per hour, which will cause catastrophic damage. Exterior walls and roofs of homes will be lost or damaged, and most trees will be uprooted. Power lines will be downed. Fallen trees and power lines are likely to cause more damage and isolate certain areas, also leading to power outages that may last weeks or months. The area is likely to sustain so much damage that it will be uninhabitable for a period of time, possibly weeks or months.

There were 2 hurricanes that reached Category 4 status during the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season: Ida and Sam. Hurricane Ida, which made landfall near Port Fourchon, Louisiana at the end of August, caused at least 115 deaths and an estimated $65.25 billion in damage. Hurricane Sam was the strongest hurricane of the 2021 season, but it thankfully did not make landfall and there have been no reported deaths or property damage.

2022 saw two Category 4 hurricanes: Fiona and Ian. Hurricane Fiona was the first major hurricane to strike in the 2022 season, making landfall in the Caribbean and Canada in September and causing at least 31 deaths and an estimated $875+ million in insured losses. Hurricane Ian struck mainland Florida on September 28 as a Category 4 storm, although it reached Category 5 windspeeds shortly before it made landfall. At least 157 deaths have been attributed to Hurricane Ian, making it the deadliest storm to hit Florida since 1935.

One of the worst Category 4 storms to hit the United States was Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Texas and Louisiana in August 2017, was a Category 4 hurricane. The storm’s highest recorded wind speed was 134 miles per hour, and in all more than 100 people lost their lives. Harvey caused catastrophic flooding and an estimated $125 billion in damage.

Category 5 Hurricanes (Sustained Winds of 157+ mph)

A Category 5 hurricane will have sustained maximum winds of 157 miles per hour or higher. Most homes will be destroyed. Trees and power lines will fall, and the area will have no power and will be largely uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Few Category 5 hurricanes have made landfall in the United States. There are only 4 on record: the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969, Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and Hurricane Michael in 2018. Michael struck Florida on October 10, 2018. At least 74 people died as a result of the storm, and it caused an estimated $25.1 billion in damage. 

Ask a Hurricane Claim Lawyer

If you have more questions about hurricane damage and what you can do as a homeowner or business owner to recoup your losses, our team at Arnold & Itkin is here to help. We know how to face off against insurance companies, helping our clients get full and fair payment for their claims. Even with complex issues related to flood damage, vehicle insurance, wind damage, and more, our hurricane claim attorneys can present strong cases to help our clients seek fair outcomes.

To learn more, call (888) 493-1629 today. Your consultation is free and confidential!

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