Hurricane Category Chart

What determines a hurricane category? Is it wind speed? Is it tidal surge?

Tidal surge causes beach erosion and flooding.

If you live in Myrtle Beach or anywhere near the coast, you need to know about tropical storms, hurricane tracking and when is hurricane season.

What is a Hurricane?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “hurricane” is the regional term we apply to a tropical cyclone, which is a low-pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters. It is typified by organized thunderstorm activity and definite surface wind circulation. That is the counter clockwise movement that makes it look so distinctive on a weather map. The term “typhoon” means the same thing and is used primarily in the eastern Pacific.

A tropical cyclone with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 39 miles per hour is usually called a "tropical depression.”  

“This is not to be confused with the condition mid-latitude people get during a long, cold and grey winter wishing they could be closer to the equator.” (Some NOAA humor I couldn’t resist passing along).

A tropical storm is designated when maximum sustained winds are between 39 and 73 miles per hour. When winds reach 74 miles per hour, the storm is classified as a hurricane. The National Weather Service will issue either a Hurricane Watch for areas that could be affected by the storm, or a Hurricane Warning  when they know for sure where the storm is headed.

Below is the hurricane category chart used by official agencies to indicate the strength of a storm. Storms are categorized with damage projections courtesy of NOAA and Louisiana Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Category Scale

The Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale is a 1 to 5 rating based on a hurricane's sustained wind speed. This scale estimates potential property damage. A hurricane category 3 and higher is considered a major hurricane because of the potential for significant loss of life and damage. Tidal surges indicated are estimates.

Category 1

wind speed 74-95 mph 
tidal surge 4 to 5 feet

Very dangerous winds will produce some damage: Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.

Category 2

wind speed 96-110 mph
tidal surge 6 to 8 feet

Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.

Category 3

wind speed 111-129 mph
tidal surge 9 to 12 feet

Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes.

Category 4

wind speed 130-156 mph
tidal surge 13 to 18 feet

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Category 5

wind speed 157 mph and higher
tidal surge 18 feet and higher

Catastrophic damage will occur: A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and wall collapse. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

The remains of a beach house after Hurricane Hugo hit Pawleys Island in 1989

When the forecast says hurricane, stay close to your favorite weather app. Gather supplies early and be prepared to hunker down or evacuate, especially if you live on the beach. Myrtle Beach doesn’t often sustain a direct hit, but when it does, it can be devastating. Find more hurricane information on our Myrtle Beach Hurricanes page, or visit the City of Myrtle Beach website for local hurricane tips.

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