How Are Hurricanes Categorized?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that the 2021 hurricane season will be above average in both number of storms, as well as damage done again, with a forecast of 15-21 named storms. The average number of named hurricanes is around 12 per calendar year. 

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30 each year, but the first named storm of the 2021 season, Tropical Storm Ana, formed on May 22, 2021. Red Cross Disaster Relief Coordinator, Karla Templeton, says that anyone in the path of a hurricane should heed any evacuation mandates and take all the necessary safety precautions. “So many people think they have the fortitude to ride out a hurricane, but they’ve been getting stronger and deadlier each season,” said Templeton. Knowing the difference between the categories of storms can help you and your family plan and prepare for emergencies if you live near the Atlantic or Gulf coasts.

Tropical Storm

Tropical storms are storm systems that have sustained winds of 39-73 mph. They can lead to damaged power lines, flooding and landslides.

Category 1 Hurricane 

The weakest of hurricanes are the category 1 hurricanes with sustained winds of 74-95 mph. These storms have the ability to damage roofs, shingles and vinyl siding of buildings, as well as snap large tree branches or topple shallowly rooted trees. In many cases, these hurricanes can result in power outages that could last for several days. Hurricane Elsa was a category 1 hurricane and the first named hurricane of 2021.

Category 2 Hurricane

A category 2 hurricane needs to have sustained winds of 96-110 mph. If you are impacted by one of these storms, you can expect your home to sustain major roof or siding damage, trees to be uprooted, blocking roads and near-total power loss for several days to weeks. 

Category 3 Hurricane

If a category 3 hurricane reaches you, there will likely be evacuation orders in effect. These storms have sustained winds of 111-130 mph and have the potential to do some major damage to buildings, such as the removal of roofs and other structural damage. On top of that, it is very likely that water and electricity will not be available for weeks after the storm has passed.

Category 4 Hurricane

To be classified as a category 4 hurricane, the storm must have sustained winds of 131-155 mph. This can lead to severe structural damage of buildings, downed trees and power lines and extreme flooding, all of which can lead to the isolation of many residents for weeks to months.

Category 5 Hurricane

Category 5 hurricanes are the strongest with sustained winds of 156 mph and up. A hurricane of this strength can destroy homes, lead to catastrophic flooding and leave an area uninhabitable for months. Hurricane Irma was one of the most intense category 5 hurricanes seen in recent history. 

Karla Templeton has seen firsthand how a hurricane can impact a community. After being a long-term resident of Key West, Florida, Templeton aided with the rescue and recovery efforts in the Florida Keys after Hurricane Irma in 2017. “A lot of the residents chose to shelter-in-place during Irma and lost everything, but seeing how the community pulled together afterward was inspiring,” said Temtpleton. While it was uplifting to see teamwork in action, she said it was also devastating to see the place she once called home in shambles. Through the hard work and dedication of workers, volunteers and community members, Key West was able to rebound and is better prepared for the next hurricane to hit.

At CSWR, we want to help you stay as prepared as possible for these dangerous weather events. You can read about some ways to prepare on our blog. Additionally, you can visit FEMA’s Ready.gov and the National Hurricane Center’s website at hurricanes.gov throughout the season to stay current on watches and warnings.