Hurricanes present many devastating impacts: wind, rain, storm surge. For many, wind takes ranks over all others due to the widespread use of the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. This scale, which everyone knows by now, estimates property damage and assigns it a category 1-5.
Therein lies the problem, as the category is assigned to a storm based on its wind speed- and nothing else. Winds are just one part of the hurricane, and in fact not even the deadliest impact.
“Historically, half the deaths in tropical systems have been from storm surge. Another 25 percent in the inland flooding category, so its about water- totaling up to 90% of fatalities, including offshore fatalities, is all about water.”Ken Graham, NHC Director
Ken Graham heads the NHC- who is working to reduce that number by issuing storm surge watches and warnings in addition to hurricane and tropical storm warnings since 2017.
The hope is to focus more on the impacts, not the category of a storm as hurricane-strength winds may only extend over a small area and over a short amount of time, flooding rains may reach far hundreds of miles inland and last for days- even when the hurricane is no longer a hurricane.
The Carolinas saw this first-hand with Florence last year with devastating impacts- which as you may remember, made landfall as a Category 1. Proving that “just a category 1” is not a phrase that should dictate your hurricane preparation. Graham said, “in the last decade Category 1 storms have killed 175 people and caused 103 billion dollars in damage.”
Meteorologists will still categorize hurricane intensity via their wind as it is a real-world measurement that we can take from hurricane hunter missions or classify from damage surveys. But if you only focus on that impact in a hurricane- you’re placing yourself, your loved ones, and your property as risk.
Storm Team 2 Meteorologist David Dickson