Hurricanes - Defined

The Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS), formerly the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale (SSHS), classifies hurricanes, which form in the Atlantic Ocear and Northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date line, that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions and tropical storms – into five categories distinguished bythe intensities of their sustained winds. To be classified as a hurricane, a storm must have maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph.

While this system provides some indication of damage, it can not accurately predict the amount of rainfall, flooding, storm surge, and tornado formation.


Category 1 - Sustained winds of 74-95 mph

Very dangerous winds will produce some damage.  Category 1 storms usually cause no significant structural damage to most well-constructed permanent structures; however, they can topple unanchored mobile homes, as well as uproot or snap weak trees. Poorly attached roof shingles or tiles can blow off. Coastal flooding and pier damage are often associated with Category 1 storms. Power outages are typically widespread to extensive, sometimes lasting several days. Even though it is the least intense type of hurricane, they can still produce widespread damage and can be life-threatening storms.


Category 2 – Sustained winds of 96-110 mph

Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage.  Storms of Category 2 intensity often damage roofing material (sometimes exposing the roof) and inflict damage upon poorly constructed doors and windows. Poorly constructed signs and piers can receive considerable damage and many trees are uprooted or snapped. Mobile homes, whether anchored or not, are typically damaged and sometimes destroyed, and many manufactured homes also suffer structural damage. Small craft in unprotected anchorages may break their moorings. Extensive to near-total power outages and scattered loss of potable water are likely, possibly lasting many days.


Category 3 – Sustained winds of 111-129 mph

Devastating damage will occur. Tropical cyclones of Category 3 and higher are described as major hurricanes in the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific basins. These storms can cause some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, particularly those of wood frame or manufactured materials with minor curtain wall failures. Buildings that lack a solid foundation, such as mobile homes, are usually destroyed, and gable-end roofs are peeled off. Manufactured homes usually sustain severe and irreparable damage. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures, while larger structures are struck by floating debris. A large number of trees are uprooted or snapped, isolating many areas. Additionally, terrain may be flooded well inland. Near-total to total power loss is likely for up to several weeks and water will likely also be lost or contaminated.


Category 4Sustained winds of 130-156 mph

Catastrophic damage will occur. Category 4 hurricanes tend to produce more extensive curtainwall failures, with some complete structural failure on small residences. Heavy, irreparable damage and near complete destruction of gas station canopies and other wide span overhang type structures are common. Mobile and manufactured homes are often flattened. Most trees, except for the heartiest, are uprooted or snapped, isolating many areas. These storms cause extensive beach erosion, while terrain may be flooded far inland. Total and long-lived electrical and water losses are to be expected, possibly for many weeks.

Category 5Sustained winds greater than 157 mph 

Catastrophic damage will occur.  Category 5 is the highest category of the Saffir–Simpson scale. These storms cause complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings, and some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Collapse of many wide-span roofs and walls, especially those with no interior supports, is common. Very heavy and irreparable damage to many wood frame structures and total destruction to mobile/manufactured homes is prevalent. Only a few types of structures are capable of surviving intact, and only if located at least 3 to 5 miles (5 to 8 km) inland.

The storm's flooding causes major damage to the lower floors of all structures near the shoreline, and many coastal structures can be completely flattened or washed away by the storm surge. Virtually all trees are uprooted or snapped. Total and extremely long-lived power outages and water losses are to be expected, possibly for up to several months.

Source:  Wikipedia