Most everyone has heard of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale in one fashion or another. Meteorologists use the Saffir-Simpson Scale to classify tropical systems based on their intensities. This classification was created by Wind Engineer Herb Saffir and Meteorologist Bob Simpson in 1975. The scale originally classified storms based on sustained wind speeds, central pressure, and storm surge. After careful revision, the current scale is solely based upon 1 minute sustained wind speeds.
Let’s break down the scale, shall we?
Each hurricane must go through the infant stage, known as a tropical depression. A tropical depression is the least organized of the tropical family and has winds under 39 mph. As the system matures, it can cross into the tropical storm category once wind speeds range from 39 mph to 73 mph. Once the tropical storm reaches sustained winds of 74 mph and greater is it considered a hurricane.
A category 1 hurricane ranges from 74 mph to 95 mph and has very dangerous winds that can produce some damage. A category 2 goes up to 110 mph and could cause extensive damage. Once a hurricane produces sustained winds of greater than 111 mph, it is considered a “major hurricane”. Category 3 and 4 will begin to cause serious, widespread damage. A category 5 has sustained winds in excess of 157 mph and can cause catastrophic damage. Damages caused by the storm rise by a factor of 4 with each category increase.
Once a system crosses into the “tropical storm” category it is given a unique name. The World Meteorological Organization has created 6 sets of names that are re-used every 6 years. Here’s a look at the names for this year.
Each name is recycled but there are exceptions. Storms that create numerous fatalities or costly damage may have the name retired, not to be used again. There are many “notable” hurricanes with retired names. Some memorable ones are The Galveston Hurricane, a category 4 in 1900, Hurricane Camille, a category 5 in 1969, and the most notable and devastating storm to the US, is hurricane Katrina, a powerful category 5, in 2005.
Here in Eastern North Carolina, there has been a fair share of notable hurricanes. Do you remember Hurricane Floyd who made landfall as a category 2, back in 1999, or maybe Hurricane Hazel who slammed the coast as a category 4, how about hurricane Fran, a cat 3 in 1996? If you want to learn a little more about the most notable hurricanes that affected the NC coast, head on over to hurricane video page.