Throughout the next several months you'll hear the terms tropical depression, tropical storm, hurricane, major hurricane... and while we know the term 'major hurricane' refers to something we should probably be scared of, for those less versed in the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, that term might have a different meaning. Well alas, today's NEQ Spotlight takes a closer look at the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (formerly accounting for storm surge, hence the addition of the term wind), which separates hurricanes into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds.
Developed in 1971 by civil engineer Herbert Saffir and meteorologist Bob Simpson, adopted by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in 1973 and updated in 2010, the Saffir-Simpson Scale is now based strictly on wind speed and is meant to show on a scale from 1 (the weakest) to 5 (the most intense) the expected damage to structures as a result of a landfalling hurricane. The scale does not take into account storm surge, rainfall, barometric pressure or other elements of a tropical cyclone.
Within the scope of the Saffir-Simpson Scale there is a subset of storms defined as major for those classified as category 3 or higher. A major hurricane is capable or producing extensive to catastrophic damage.
The graphic above defines the categories in the Scale, their associated wind speeds and the potential damage at landfall. With all eyes on a strengthening Alex this week, this scale will definitely be referred to and should be something you become familiar with – now and throughout hurricane season.
Thanks Saffir-Simpson for your contribution to meteorology and involuntarily offering yourself up to today's NEQ Spotlight!
Reference 1: See earlier blog post: New Hurricane Wind Scale for 2010 Season
Reference 2: Check out this transcript from a 1991 interview with Dr. Simpson