(for 1-minute maximum sustained winds)
|Five||≥ 70 m/s||≥ 137 kn||≥ 157 mph||≥ 252 km/h|
|Four||58–70 m/s||113–136 kn||130–156 mph||209–251 km/h|
|Three||50–58 m/s||96–112 kn||111–129 mph||178–208 km/h|
|Two||43–49 m/s||83–95 kn||96–110 mph||154–177 km/h|
|One||33–42 m/s||64–82 kn||74–95 mph||119–153 km/h|
|Tropical storm||18–32 m/s||34–63 kn||39–73 mph||63–118 km/h|
|Tropical depression||≤ 17 m/s||≤ 33 kn||≤ 38 mph||≤ 62 km/h|
The Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale (SSHWS), formerly the Saffir–Simpson hurricane scale (SSHS), classifies hurricanes – Western Hemisphere tropical cyclones that exceed the intensities of tropical depressions, and tropical storms – into five categories distinguished by the intensities of their sustained winds. To be classified as a hurricane, a tropical cyclone must have maximum sustained winds of at least 74 mph (33 m/s; 64 kn; 119 km/h) (Category 1). The highest classification in the scale, Category 5, is reserved for storms with winds exceeding 156 mph (70 m/s; 136 kn; 251 km/h).
The classifications can provide some indication of the potential damage and flooding a hurricane will cause upon landfall.
Officially, the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale is used only to describe hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line. Other areas use different scales to label these storms, which are called "cyclones" or "typhoons", depending on the area.
The five categories are, in order of increasing intensity:
Hurricane Pablo at peak intensity near the Azores.
Very dangerous winds will produce some damage
Category 1 storms usually cause no significant structural damage to most well-constructed permanent structures; however, they can topple unanchored mobile homes, as well as uproot or snap numerous trees. Poorly attached roof shingles or tiles can blow off. Coastal flooding and pier damage are often associated with Category 1 storms. Power outages are typically widespread to extensive, sometimes lasting several days. Even though it is the least intense type of hurricane, the storm can still produce widespread damage and can be a life-threatening storm.
Hurricanes that peaked at Category 1 intensity, and made landfall at that intensity include: Agnes (1972), Juan (1985), Ismael (1995), Danny (1997), Claudette (2003), Gaston (2004), Stan (2005), Humberto (2007), Isaac (2012), Manuel (2013), Earl (2016), Hermine (2016), Nate (2017), Barry (2019), Lorena (2019), Hanna (2020), Isaias (2020) and Nana (2020).
Chris (2018) off the coast of North Carolina.
Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage
Storms of Category 2 intensity often damage roofing material (sometimes exposing the roof) and inflict damage upon poorly constructed doors and windows. Poorly constructed signs and piers can receive considerable damage and many trees are uprooted or snapped. Mobile homes, whether anchored or not, are typically damaged and sometimes destroyed, and many manufactured homes also suffer structural damage. Small craft in unprotected anchorages may break their moorings. Extensive to near-total power outages and scattered loss of potable water are likely, possibly lasting many days.
Hurricanes that peaked at Category 2 intensity, and made landfall at that intensity include: Able (1952), Ella (1958), Fifi (1974), Diana (1990), Gert (1993), Rosa (1994), Erin (1995), Alma (1996), Juan (2003), Catarina (2004), Alex (2010), Richard (2010), Tomas (2010), Carlotta (2012), Ernesto (2012), Arthur (2014), and Sally (2020).
Hurricane Gaston at peak.
Devastating damage will occur
Tropical cyclones of Category 3 and higher are described as major hurricanes in the Atlantic or Eastern Pacific basins. These storms can cause some structural damage to small residences and utility buildings, particularly those of wood frame or manufactured materials with minor curtain wall failures. Buildings that lack a solid foundation, such as mobile homes, are usually destroyed, and gable-end roofs are peeled off. Manufactured homes usually sustain severe and irreparable damage. Flooding near the coast destroys smaller structures, while larger structures are struck by floating debris. A large number of trees are uprooted or snapped, isolating many areas. Additionally, terrain be flooded well inland. Near-total to total power loss is likely for up to several weeks and water will likely also be lost or contaminated.
Hurricanes that peaked at Category 3 intensity, and made landfall at that intensity include: Easy (1950), Carol (1954), Hilda (1955), Audrey (1957), Celia (1970), Ella (1970), Caroline (1975), Eloise (1975), Olivia (1975), Alicia (1983), Elena (1985), Roxanne (1995), Fran (1996), Isidore (2002), Jeanne (2004), Lane (2006), Karl (2010), and Otto (2016).
Gustav at Cuban landfall.
Catastrophic damage will occur
Category 4 hurricanes tend to produce more extensive curtainwall failures, with some complete structural failure on small residences. Heavy, irreparable damage and near complete destruction of gas station canopies and other wide span overhang type structures are common. Mobile and manufactured homes are often flattened. Most trees, except for the heartiest, are uprooted or snapped, isolating many areas. These storms cause extensive beach erosion, while terrain may be flooded far inland. Total and long-lived electrical and water losses are to be expected, possibly for many weeks.
The 1900 Galveston hurricane, the deadliest natural disaster to hit the United States, peaked at an intensity that corresponds to a modern-day Category 4 storm. Other examples of storms that peaked at Category 4 intensity, and made landfall at that intensity include: Hazel (1954), Donna (1960), Flora (1963), Cleo (1964), Betsy (1965), Carmen (1974), Frederic (1979), Joan (1988), Iniki (1992), Luis (1995), Iris (2001), Charley (2004), Dennis (2005), Gustav (2008), Ike (2008), Joaquin (2015), Harvey (2017), and Laura (2020).
|≥ 70 m/s
≥ 137 kn
≥ 252 km/h
≥ 157 mph
Dorian while making landfall at peak intensity.
Catastrophic damage will occur
Category 5 is the highest category a tropical cyclone can attain in the Saffir–Simpson scale. These storms cause complete roof failure on many residences and industrial buildings, and some complete building failures with small utility buildings blown over or away. Collapse of many wide-span roofs and walls, especially those with no interior supports, is common. Very heavy and irreparable damage to many wood frame structures and total destruction to mobile/manufactured homes is prevalent. Only a few types of structures are capable of surviving intact, and only if located at least 3 to 5 miles (5 to 8 km) inland. They include office, condominium and apartment buildings and hotels that are of solid concrete or steel frame construction, public multi-story concrete parking garages, and residences that are made of either reinforced brick or concrete/cement block and have hipped roofs with slopes of no less than 35 degrees from horizontal and no overhangs of any kind, and if the windows are either made of hurricane-resistant safety glass or covered with shutters. Unless all of these requirements are met, the absolute destruction of a structure is certain.
The storm's flooding causes major damage to the lower floors of all structures near the shoreline, and many coastal structures can be completely flattened or washed away by the storm surge. Virtually all trees are uprooted or snapped and some may be debarked, isolating most communities impacted. Massive evacuation of residential areas may be required if the hurricane threatens populated areas. Total and extremely long-lived extensive power outages and water losses are to be expected, possibly for up to several months.
Historical examples of storms that made landfall at Category 5 status include: "Cuba" (1924), "Okeechobee" (1928), "Bahamas" (1932), "Cuba–Brownsville" (1933), "Labor Day" (1935), Janet (1955), Camille (1969), Edith (1971), Anita (1977), David (1979), Gilbert (1988), Andrew (1992), Dean (2007), Felix (2007), Irma (2017), Maria (2017), Michael (2018), and Dorian (2019). No Category 5 hurricane is known to have made landfall at that strength in the eastern Pacific basin.