Understanding the Saffir-Simpson Scale for Hurricane Categories

People are so accustomed to haring hurricanes described by their category level that it might seem this storm scale has been around for centuries. In fact, the Saffir-Simpson scale for hurricane categories was not created until the early 1970s. It classifies the storms by their wind speed, with levels ranging from 1 at the weakest to 5 at the most severe. The owners and employees of businesses like Cane Bay Partners on the island of St. Croix are uncomfortably familiar with this scale.

St. Croix and Hurricane Maria

St. Croix was hit by a category 5 hurricane in 2017, although the storm essentially brushed against the island. Hurricane Maria caused widespread devastation there and on other Caribbean islands. Cane Bay Cares quickly created a charitable division to provide hurricane relief to their community of Christiansted and residents on the rest of the island. Recovery from the storm was a long effort, and some work continues even two years later.

Because of the way the storm traveled, St. Croix at least was spared the brunt of a category 5 catastrophic event. Instead, the sustained wind speeds on the island were a bit above 100 miles per hour, with gusts over 130 miles per hour. That still is enough to cause major damage to roofs and siding, which was extremely prevalent on the island after the hurricane blew through. Depending on the neighborhood and the community, power outages lasted from several weeks to several months.

The Saffir-Simpson Scale

The Saffir-Simpson scale was developed by a meteorologist and classifies hurricanes by wind speed. The lowest sustained wind speed connected with a hurricane, at category 1, is 74 miles per hour. The highest, in category 5, is any sustained wind above 157 miles per hour. The scale measures power of the storms, but many people would like to see added information for storm surges and rainfall.

With some hurricanes, the rain is much more damaging than the wind. That was the case with Harvey in 2017 and Katrina in 2005. Hurricane Maria did come with heavy rain squalls, but it was not associated with the severe flooding cause by some other storms.